Architecture

Ensia finals

Now we need to build it. #auspol #climate 

When you look to the year ahead, what do you see? 

Ensia recently invited eight global thought leaders to share their thoughts.

 In this interview with Ensia contributor Lisa Palmer for Ensia’s 2017 print annual, Christiana Figueres, former executive sectretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, responds to three questions: 

What will be the biggest challenge to address or opportunity to grasp in your field in 2017? 

Why? And what should we be doing about it now?

A host of trends threatens to undermine the stability and security of our communities, including widening inequality, record youth unemployment, rapid urbanization, increasing pressure on resources, commodity price volatility and, exacerbating all of this, an increasingly unpredictable and extreme climate.
In 2015, the world came together and agreed we would not let these trends run rampant through our societies — that, instead, we would work toward a common set of positive goals.

 The Sustainable Development Goals, Paris climate change agreement and Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction together provided us with a common vision for a more peaceful and resilient world.


Now we need to buckle down and build it, even if we encounter unexpected resistance or challenges to our agreed goals.

That means ensuring that every decision we take as a society is aligned with the goals we have set.

 Our fiscal and monetary policy, our infrastructure and planning decisions, our social welfare provision — all of this must point in one clear direction, so that no flank of our actions undermines the rest.

We will not be able to build more peaceful and resilient communities if in the pursuit of our objectives we run roughshod over each other’s priorities and concerns. 

Instead, we must come together to, for example, understand what actions we take to limit temperature rise to 1.5 °C (3.6 °F) mean for how we use our land, how they can be harnessed as opportunities to reduce youth unemployment and deliver more inclusive prosperity, how they can offer opportunities to bring energy access and economic opportunity to the remotest of places through technologies such as decentralized solar.

 Not only is opening up this wider invitation to a world of opportunity the right thing to do — it is our best insurance against alienation, anger and violence. 

Press link for more: ensia.com

Ensia finals

Climate Change should worry us all. #auspol #science #resist

Climate challenge should worry us all

Section of land that was covered by water. (Photo: Maarufu Mohammed/Standard)

To my shame, I realise I might just have grown up a climate change denialist.


 Sitting in the presence of 40 climate and energy specialists this week, I was left with another shocking thought. 

My denialism could have cost my children in future, the past 50 years I have enjoyed.
When connected, a series of isolated occurrences last week gives this thought greater urgency. 

My tap has no water and when it does, it is brown and undrinkable.
US President Donald Trump appointed a denialist and passed Executive Orders that seek to hide climate science research, reduce US Environmental Protection Agency funding and regulation influence. 

The United Nations Secretary General asked Kenya to lead the peace-keeping contingent in Darfur, Sudan, probably the first massive global conflict explicitly caused by climate change.

The appeal by widely respected Kenya Red Cross Secretary General Gullet Abbas was met with uncharacteristic derision. Give for starving Kenyans, again? 

What does the government do with the taxes we pay? 

There are bigger questions we could also be asking, like why are Kenyans starving in the first place?
Our planet is getting hotter, less predictive and accommodating of our lifestyles. 

Kenyan famines have gone from being 20 years apart to 12 and then 2 years.

ALSO READ: ‘I only need a sip of water before I die’
Now we seem to experience famines annually in key parts of the country.

 Rainfall is down 15 per cent, the country is 1.4 degrees centigrade warmer since the 1980s and the agriculture growing season is growing shorter, perhaps by as much as 40 per cent.
We have two frontlines to secure for the future. 

The first is urban. 

Seven of the world’s biggest cities are in Africa and Nairobi is one of them. 

Africa’s population will double in the next 34 years and it is in our cities that the majority of our citizens will be found. 

Our cities are not designed for this future yet.

 Yet here there is some good news.
Africa’s city managers, mayors and governors are currently providing global leadership for the UN New Urban Action. 

Kenya has also recently been named the world’s least toxic country by the Eco Experts. 

They looked at levels of air pollution, energy consumption and renewable energy production.
Leadership is also emerging in unexpected places.

 Take Phyllis Omido for instance. 

She was an administrator and single mother when she discovered her Mombasa-based employer Metal Refinery Ltd, a lead smelting company, was literally killing their neighbours with toxic lead.
Still unrecognised and supported by government, she continues to call for compensation and protection of the Uhuru-Owino community and others across the country.
Our rural farms and pastures are also on the frontline. 

With declining rain-fall, there are growing calls for climate change agriculture.

 We have to make choices about how much land for food or bio-fuel production, maize or cassava and whether we prioritise large commercial interests or small farmers.
The younger among us have most to lose as 24-year-old Ekai Nabenyo from Turkana County has realised.

 He says with conviction: “Even if the (global UN) Paris Agreements disappoint us, I will continue to defend my home against drought and developers”. 

Ekai presses daily for his entire community to enforce environmental standards on oil companies and engage in re-afforestation. 

77,000 trees have been planted in one of Kenya’s harshest environments through the community’s efforts to date.

ALSO READ: Economic woes linked to low investment in water, State told
We voted for the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment in the Constitution. We can’t leave it to other people or to the government. You and me are too important to look the other way. 

What can I do, I hear you ask?
Plant trees but avoid the beautiful and water-hungry jacarandas.

 To survive, we will need to increase our national forest cover from 6 per cent to 10 per cent, share a car ride with a neighbour, workplaces, embrace public transport, a bicycle or walk where possible. 

Are you separating your household plastics, paper and food leftover?
Are you water harvesting and using the water for farming?

 Parents, encourage a child to take on a career in environmental science, climate and renewable energy.

 Citizens, press our 48 governments to govern our environment in line with Article 69 of the Constitution.
The world does not owe us an earth. 

We owe the world a sustainable earth. 


And it is time we started using our backbone instead of a wishbone on this issue.

 It’s time, we all started reading and acting up more.

Press link for more: Standard Media Kenya

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Nine things we should all do during the Climate Crisis. #auspol 

If everyone in the U.S. gave up meat and cheese just one day a week, it would be equivalent to not driving 91 billion miles, or taking 7.6 million cars off the road, according to the Environmental Working Group. 
My friend the writer and editor Laura M. Browning asked me to write about environmental action for her newsletter “One Small Thing,” which advises people on personal actions they can take to improve their world. Here’s a preview:
Most Americans believe climate change is real and that something should be done about it, but they seem to want someone else to do it—usually, the government. In the wake of the 2016 election, what was always true should be abundantly clear: government won’t solve the problem of climate change.
That leaves us. Fortunately, there are lots of things we can do ourselves. I’ve listed nine of them below. They might look like small things, but they are powerful things.
Sometimes we may feel powerless to transform the transportation, energy and industrial sectors ourselves, and so we want some omnipotent being to do it for us. But while we’re feeling powerless, are we overlooking personal actions that can further our goals?
The Powers That Be may not heed our protests, read our letters, listen to our environmental groups, but they can’t stop us from taking back the dollars we inadvertently contribute to their polluting economy every year.
Here is a list of simple actions that work:
1. Become a vegetarian, or better yet a vegan. 

The share of greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture is usually pegged at 14.5 percent to 18 percent, but the Worldwatch Institute found lots of oversights in those calculations that, when properly counted, bring the ag contribution all the way up to 51 percent. That, you’ll notice, is more than half. Which means that after we clean up all the transportation, energy, industry and commerce in the world, we’ve done less than half the job. The other half is meat and dairy. Refuse to eat it. If this seems too challenging, consider giving it up one day a week. It will still be the most important action you can take.

2. Eat organic when you can.

 Organic food is good for us because we’re not putting pesticides in our bodies, but organic food is also grown without synthetic fertilizers, most of which begin as byproducts of oil refining. When you buy a conventional apple, you’re giving a little boost to Big Oil.
3. Buy local when you can. 

I’m not talking about patronizing mom and pop stores, although that may have its own merit; I’m talking about buying locally-manufactured products made with locally-sourced materials. This goes for food too, with home organic gardening as a local ideal. To the extent that we minimize transportation of goods, we mitigate climate change.
4. Live in the climate. 

The biggest residential demand on our dirty energy system is climate control—home heating and cooling. We travel from our air conditioned homes to our air conditioned workplaces in air conditioned cars. Of course, we need climate control to protect us from freezing temperatures in winter and soaring temperatures in summer, but do we need the atmosphere to be exactly 70 degrees everywhere we go, all year long? Let’s use climate control only for the extremes. When temperatures are moderate, live in the climate we evolved to inhabit.
5. Line dry your clothes. 

Since I stopped using a clothes dryer, not only do I feel good about the fossil fuel I’m not burning, but my clothes last much longer. Which means I don’t need to buy new clothes nearly as often. Which means new clothes are not being shipped to me from Asia in freighters burning dirty, unregulated fuel oil.
6. Vote with your feet. 

Every time you drive a car, you vote for the car. Every time you ride a bike, you vote for the bike. You vote economically in the fuel you purchase—or don’t—but you also vote pragmatically. These days, transportation departments keep meticulous track of road usage and transit trips. Where there are a lot of bicyclists, bicycle infrastructure is more likely to get support. Where there are a lot of pedestrians, most transportation departments will try to make streets safer and friendlier for people, not cars.
7. If you have children, don’t use them as an excuse to wage war on their environment.

“I have children, therefore I must buy meat,” goes the thinking. “I have children, therefore I must drive a car.” This is like saying, “I have children, therefore I must destroy their future.” Researchers estimate each child increases a parent’s carbon footprint by nearly six times! Raise little vegetarians who know how to live in the climate and use public transit—survival skills for the 21st Century.

8. Reduce and reuse before recycle. 

Recycling emerged as a virtue before we knew we had a climate problem, and it turns out that transporting and processing materials for recycling is carbon intensive. Recycling still uses less energy than making new products from scratch, but reducing and reusing are even cleaner.
9. Offset your carbon emissions. After we’ve done everything above, we’ll still be responsible for some unavoidable emissions until our society cleans up its act. It only cost me $35 to offset my carbon emissions for 2016, which included some airline flights. The United Nations has made offsetting easy, cheap, and reliable, and you decide where the money goes—mine went to solar water heaters in India, inhibiting the spread of conventional water heaters there. Calculate and offset your emissions at climateneutralnow.org
By Jeff McMahon, based in Chicago

Press link for more: Forbes.com

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Obama’s Top Scientist Explains the Climate Challenge #auspol #science 

Obama’s Top Scientist Explains the Climate Challenge Ahead

President Obama meets with John Holdren, Office of Science and Technology Policy, in the Oval Office prior to Stem Cell Executive Order “Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells” and Presidential Memorandum on Scientific Integrity, March 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Photo Credit: Pete Souza/White House

John Holdren is the longest-serving presidential science adviser in U.S. history. He’s also probably one of the most influential, having advised President Obama on key energy issues for the last eight years. “Mr. Holdren has this president’s ear,” is how The New York Times put it in 2014. 
A physicist by training, Holdren is among the chief architects of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan. 
This makes him one of the more controversial science advisers, as well. The plan has been lauded by environmentalists, but is loathed by conservative politicians, some of whom have filed suit against it. The future of the plan, which rests almost entirely on executive authority, is now very much in doubt. 
Holdren spoke to Yale Environment 360 about the difference between “dangerous” and “catastrophic” warming, the incoming Trump administration, and how to talk to people who deny the existence of climate change. “Part of the reason that I retain some optimism about the future is that there are these fundamental forces pushing us toward doing the right thing,” he said. 
e360: There’s obviously a lot of concern out there right now about a new administration and what’s going to happen to the steps President Obama has taken on climate. How do you feel about this? 

Holdren: We don’t know at this point what the next administration is going to do. I think everybody saw the interview with The New York Timesin which President-elect Trump said his mind is now open on climate change. That is certainly progress compared to some of what went before. 
I don’t know what’s going to happen, but what I know is that a lot of what is going on in the positive sense on climate has a lot of momentum to it. It has momentum because it makes sense to people. People understand that renewables have been getting cheaper. People understand that energy efficiency saves them money. People understand that climate change is happening around them. Just the increase in torrential downpours and the flooding associated with that is so conspicuous, so damaging, that I think anybody that did want to roll back the sensible things we’re doing would find there was a lot of opposition to it. 
You know, the business community is on board now in a way that goes way beyond what was true before. You have so many of the Fortune 500 companies with policies aimed at reducing their own greenhouse emissions and supportive of government policies to help that along. You’ve got the environmental community. You’ve got a substantial fraction of the economic community, who understand that the damage to the economy from not addressing climate change will be far, far greater than the costs of addressing it. There are a lot of constituencies out there who will act to defend the positive things that are going on. That gives me reason for optimism. 
e360: Still, we have a president-elect and many high-ranking members of Congress who’ve said they don’t believe in climate change. What’s your analysis of what’s gone wrong here? 
Holdren: I think a number of Republicans believe that if the public ever accepted the reality of what climate science is telling us, the country would embrace a regulatory regime which Republicans would not welcome. There has been a leaning toward questioning the science, which is really based on fear of over-regulation. I think that’s particularly unfortunate because economists on all parts of the political spectrum have agreed for a long time that the single most effective thing you could do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be a market-based approach, which puts a price on carbon emissions and then lets the market decide how to reduce it. And if you wanted to make such a thing revenue-neutral, you could reduce capital gains taxes or reduce income taxes in proportion to the revenue you got from a carbon tax. The reality is that some of this thinking, which is reflected in the positions of some folks on the Republican side of the aisle, is actually out of date. 

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We need to focus more on solutions, irrespective of whether you are convinced humans are altering the climate.”

It isn’t true that accepting the science requires a draconian regulatory regime. 
e360: How can we get out of this situation where people can still say, “I don’t believe in climate change”? And what is the role of scientists who have been sounding the alarm on this for really a long time now? 


Holdren: I have long held the possibly naïve view that giving people more information will help. There have been a number of studies lately that have indicated that that may not be right. One of the conclusions I draw from that is we need to focus more on the solutions and their attractiveness irrespective of whether you are convinced that humans are altering the climate to our detriment. 
Let me give you a couple of examples: One of the big drivers of the reductions in emissions that have been achieved in recent years is that renewable energy and natural gas have been cheaper than the more greenhouse-gas-intensive alternatives, particularly coal. That has been driven by the market above all. If the climate-friendly energy sources are also less expensive, and that trend appears to be continuing, then you don’t need to “believe” in human-caused climate change to embrace them. 
I think everybody who’s paying close attention to climate understands now that we need to do a lot on the preparedness, resilience, and adaptation sides, because no matter what you do on the mitigation side, you can’t stop climate change overnight. Adverse impacts are already occurring, so we need to do what we can to reduce our vulnerability. Well, it turns out a lot of those strategies are win-win strategies in the sense that they would make sense even if the climate weren’t changing. There have always been powerful storms. There have always been droughts. We have always under-invested in preparation for those kinds of events. The fact that climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of those events strengthens the argument for investing in preparedness, resilience, and adaptation, but the argument stands even without that. 
Part of the reason that I retain some optimism about the future is that there are these fundamental forces pushing us toward doing the right thing. One is a set of economic forces. Another is a set of historic underinvestment in infrastructure, which we should be improving in terms of its resilience in any case. 
e360: Well, if these are underlying trends, what difference does public policy make? 
Holdren: Policy can accelerate the good trends. Again, let me give you some examples: We’ve had a policy of investing in research and development on clean energy and energy efficiency. One of the results of that policy has been a 90-percent-plus reduction in the cost of light-emitting diodes, LED bulbs. The investments in clean energy R&D have contributed to the reduction in the price of wind and solar. Also important has been the tax credits, the production tax credits [for wind and solar], which we just got extended in law for five years with bipartisan support in the Congress. You can reinforce positive trends with policy. 
 

e360: What do you think the most important policy measures that have been taken over the last eight years with regard to climate change are? I know you don’t want to speculate, but how hard or easy would they be to undo? 
Holdren: First of all, and this is sometimes forgotten when people think that the whole interest of the Obama administration in climate change originated with the Climate Action Plan in 2013, the down payment took place in the Recovery Act [of 2009]. There was $80 billion for clean and efficient energy, the biggest boost for clean and efficient energy in the history of the country, probably in the history of the world, which again had a big effect. It led to advances in technology, reductions in cost that have been extraordinary. 
Then you look at the rest of the first term, we had the first set of combined fuel economy CO2 emissions standards for light-duty vehicles, followed by heavy-duty vehicles. 
Now, of course, in the second term, we had in 2013 the Climate Action Plan with its three pillars – reduce domestic emissions, build up domestic preparedness, resilience, and adaptation, and the third international pillar, work with countries around the world both bilaterally and multilaterally to get them to do the same. That has been immensely effective. It led to the joint announcement by [Chinese] President Xi and President Obama in Beijing in November 2014 saying, “We are the two biggest emitters. We are the two biggest economies. We are going to lead.” That made possible Paris. It transformed the international discussion. 
e360: There’s been talk recently that China will be stepping into the leadership role that the U.S. has occupied for the last several years. Do you buy that? 
Holdren: There is no doubt in my mind that the Chinese are serious. The Chinese are not doing what they’re doing because we urged them to do so. They are doing it because they understand that climate change is already adversely impacting China. It’s adversely impacting their agricultural production. It’s adversely impacting the East Asia monsoon, aggravating historic problems of flooding in the south and drought in the north. 
The other thing about China is most of the leadership was trained in engineering. They can do arithmetic. They are absolutely convinced and committed, so the question of whether they will take over the lead internationally in addressing the climate change challenge is partly up to us. They’re going to keep going. We should keep going as well. 
e360: You’ve said that the goal of avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system is gone. We’re already experiencing that, and the question is can we avoid catastrophe? Where do we draw the line between dangerous and catastrophic? 
Holdren: I’ve likened the current situation with respect to climate change to driving a car toward a cliff in the fog and the car has bad brakes. 
Energy represents an enormous capital investment. In the global energy system, replacement cost is probably $25 trillion or even $30 trillion. That’s an investment that turns over in the normal course of things in 30 to 40 years. That’s the average lifetime of these energy facilities – refineries, transmission lines, power plants, drilling rigs. You can’t take a $25 trillion investment and turn it over overnight. So there’s this enormous amount of inertia in the energy system. That’s the bad brakes in the car. And the fog is we don’t know exactly where the tipping points that could really turn it into a catastrophe are, but there are quite a few of them that are understandable in terms of how they would work. 
For example, we are busy not only heating the ocean, but acidifying it. Nobody can figure out at what point the oceans could exhibit changes that become catastrophic for human society. 
We know with pretty high confidence that we’re likely to have lost the majority of the world’s coral reefs by the middle of the century we’re now in from a combination of heating and acidification.  
e360: Doesn’t that lead us to the idea that, well, we don’t have 30 years to turn this around? 
Holdren: I’m not saying, “Business as usual is fine.” We’re not in business as usual at the moment. We are moving faster to turn that over. We are retiring coal plants. China is retiring coal plants at a rate that was unimaginable a few years ago. It’s showing in the data, in the emissions data. We’re not in business as usual. But still, no matter what we do, we can’t stop it overnight. 

e360: You mentioned retiring coal plants. A lot was said during this past campaign about coal. What future does coal have? 
Holdren:First of all of course, we’re not shutting down the whole coal industry. What has mostly been shut down are the dirtiest and least efficient plants and probably the costliest mines. The long-term future of coal is going to depend on whether we can master CO2 capture and sequestration. About which I’m more optimistic than many. 
Without that, the long-term future of coal is continuing decline and its replacement by cleaner things. In the short- to medium-term, natural gas and in the longer-term, some combination of nuclear and renewables. 
e360: What do you say to people who say that natural gas will get us to the same disastrous place, it’s just going to take a bit longer? 
Holdren: We can’t burn natural gas indefinitely as a society and expect to surmount the climate challenge. I think those of us who have welcomed the degree to which natural gas has been replacing coal in electricity generation are aware that it is an interim solution and not a permanent solution, again, unless and until you capture and sequester the CO2. 
This whole question of fossil fuel and leaving it in the ground, there’s a short-term and there’s a long-term aspect. In the short term, we can’t leave it all in the ground because the United States and the world as a whole are still 80-plus-percent dependent on fossil fuels for our primary energy. As I’ve already argued in terms of just the capital investment in that energy system, you can’t change that overnight. If someone says, “Leave it in the ground” meaning leave it all in the ground starting now, I say, “That’s simply not feasible.” 
If, on the other hand, somebody says, “By leave it in the ground, I mean we know that we cannot afford from the standpoint of climate to burn all the fossil fuel that’s out there” – that’s a different matter. There have been very good studies that show if you burn all the fossil fuel that’s out there, both the Greenland ice sheet and the Antarctic ice sheet go away and sea level goes up by about 65 or 70 meters [213 or 230 feet].  
I subscribe to the leave it in the ground notion – as a long-term proposition, we’ve got to leave a lot of the fossil fuel that’s out there in the ground, or else learn how to burn it and put the CO2 back in the ground. 
There was some controversy because in a public speech I gave, I was asked in the Q&A period if it is technically feasible to leave it all in the ground. I answered it as a technical question, the way I’ve answered it here: No, it is not feasible to leave it all in the ground starting now. Somebody tweeted that I had disparaged the Leave It In The Ground movement. The next thing I know I had 23,000 emails complaining about this — 23,000 emails, all identically worded, an orchestrated campaign. 
e360: Do you think that the movement has been politically effective? 
Holdren: Well, most of the people associated with the Leave It In The Ground movement actually want to stop federal leasing of fossil fuel development on federal lands, saying sort of that’s the least we can do. That’s not the same thing as leaving it all in the ground. It just says, “The United States government should be a leader in accelerating the reduction of the use of fossil fuels.” That is at least an interesting argument. 
I’m basically of the view that almost every discussion of different ways to address the climate challenge is helpful because the discussion calls to people’s attention that there is a climate change challenge. What is the best way to deal with this challenge? That’s the debate I wish we were all having, rather than a continuing debate about whether or not it’s happening, which has become kind of ridiculous in the face of the evidence.
e360: You’ve spent a lot of time dealing with people on Capitol Hill. Do you have advice for your colleagues moving forward? What should scientists be doing? 
Holdren: Scientists, number one, should keep talking about the science and what it’s telling us, what the implications are. That includes the implications of delay. How much more damage are we buying into if we say, “Let’s deal with this later,” rather than dealing with it now. It’s becoming possible to talk about that. The other thing that is becoming possible is to talk about impacts in a much more regional way. The third U.S. National Climate Assessment, which was released in 2014, succeeded in disaggregating things regionally and sectorally to a much greater extent than any previous assessment had done. 
I went around the country that year, and talked to state, local, and tribal leaders. And I was actually astonished by the number of people, including mayors, governors, who came up to me and said, “For the first time, this is a report about climate science that’s useful to us because it brings it to the level that we have to operate at.” What’s going to happen to fisheries? What’s going to happen to farming? What’s going to happen to forests? How is it different in the Northwest and the Southeast? 
That’s going to be important for scientists: to focus on what’s happening where people live and in relation to what they do for a living or what they enjoy. 
e360: What arguments do you find really get to people? 
Holdren: The local gets them, the relation to things they care about. The productivity of farms, forests, and fisheries. Hey, that matters. The prevalence of oppressive heat and humidity. That matters to folks. 
One of the things I found very effective is explaining to people that the global average surface temperature is simply an index of the state of a very complicated system, just like your body temperature is an index of the state of a very complicated system. When your body temperature goes up 2 degrees C, you know it’s telling you that something’s amiss in the system. What could be going on can be extremely complicated and extremely dangerous. 
e360: One last question. I don’t think that the president-elect is reading environmental websites, but if you could offer some advice to the incoming administration, what would it be? Maybe he will read it – if I tweet it, or something. 
Holdren: We have a transition process. I don’t think we should be talking about the details of the transition. But I’ve written down a lot of advice and my colleagues have written down a lot of advice. I just have to hope that at least some of that advice will be taken. 
I got such advice when I came in from my predecessor, John Marburger, who not only wrote a superb transition book for me, but met with me personally at great length. You don’t have to take all the advice of your predecessor. No one expects that to happen in a new administration with a different political cast. But there are things that ought to make sense regardless of political leaning. We hope that those will register.

Press link for more: Alternet.org

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Climate Change is not an “act of God” #auspol 

The threat of large-scale natural disasters and climate is growing across the world, leaving nations increasingly exposed to a myriad of risks. 


As a result, many initiatives are under way at the international, regional, national and local levels by a diverse range of stakeholders to better ways to protect human lives and livelihoods, and reduce economic losses.

Human development and settlement patterns, such as growing urban population, wealth and concentration of assets in high-risk regions, determine if and how a natural hazard could turn into a disaster (World Bank Group and United Nations, 2010).

 These impacts are further exacerbated by climate change, through changing characteristics of weather-related extremes, sea level rise and other environmental changes (IPCC, 2014; IPCC, 2012).

Whilst for a long time dismissed as ‘acts of God’, these socio-economic impacts can only be reduced through proactive integrated risk management. 

Over the last three decades, international policy dialogue on disaster risk reduction (DRR), climate change and sustainable development has advanced, with the goal to address the underpinning causes of these risks. 

Golnaraghi et al. (2016) de ne 2015 as a landmark year in bringing clarity and coherence to reshape the global development pathway. 

In that year, over 190 Member States adopted three international agreements: (i) the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030) (United Nations General Assembly, 2015a) (ii) the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (United Nations General Assembly, 2015b) and (iii) the Paris Agreement (UNFCCC, 2015). 


They highlight that, whilst each has its respective priorities for action, their common thread is the recognition of the importance of a cohesive and integrated approach to managing the risks of extreme events and climate across different economic sectors, levels of government and the society as a whole. 

Such an approach is risk- informed, and includes ex ante investments,

 (i) to reduce risks through early warning systems, emergency preparedness, and preventive measures; and,

 (ii) distribute the residual economic risk through risk nancing and risk transfer (e.g. insurance and alternative risk transfer).

 This should be augmented with effective post-disaster reconstruction plans to reduce further the risks and build resilience.

 Finally, the three framework agreements have, recognised, explicitly or implicitly, the important role of insurance in building economic resilience to extreme events and climate risks.

With governments at the centre of these issues, an increasing number of coordinated multilateral initiatives have been forged over the last decade to raise awareness and enable the implementation of disaster and climate risk management capacities at the international, regional, national and local levels.

 These efforts have engaged various stakeholders, including the United Nations, socio-economic groupings, international development community, NGOs, scienti c communities and academia, media agencies and the (re)insurance industry. 

An analysis of the complex landscape of stakeholders and initiatives indicates progress along four main areas, namely:

 (i) enhancing risk knowledge and expansion of risk assessment capacities to the public sector,

 (ii) promoting the integrated approach to disaster and climate risk management,

 (iii) developing solutions in disaster risk nancing and risk transfer and 

(iv) expanding innovative insurance products in the agriculture sector.

According to Golnaraghi et al. (2016), despite the evident progress and achievements, multi-stakeholder engagement and related initiatives remain highly fragmented. 

They stress that development of sustainable and scalable risk management practices could benefit from stronger strategic public–private partnerships that leverage stakeholders’ strengths, avoid redundancies and align priorities.

Press link for more: Geneva Association

Strategies for urban economies #auspol 

The effects of human activity on the environment over the past few centuries have given rise to some of today’s most pressing challenges. This article is the second in a five-part series outlining economic, ecological, political, and cultural stratgies for creating a more sustainable and equitable world.

By Glenn Robert Erikson
Given today’s concerns regarding global warming, mass extinctions, and income inequality, we must address the underlying economic facets of these challenges to our urban fabric. Following the foundations put forward in the lead article, “Strategizing Urban Policies for the Anthropocene,” this analysis will help form strategies for sustainable cities that provide enhanced qualities of life for all citizens.
Economic sustainability. Large global firms cannot be relied on to create and maintain long-term, high-paying, and life-fulfilling jobs. Instead, they too frequently buy out and absorb smaller firms, then export and/or cut jobs in their pursuit of low labor costs, minimized taxes, and increased short-term profits. On the other hand, regional institutional organizations and industrial firms that are tied to local natural resources tend to utilize long-term economic planning, which helps to stabilize communities, while local entrepreneurial firms employing native competitive advantages create a large share of job and income growth for most urban areas. Individual urban economies must subsequently work closely with regional firms and nurture, promote, and incentivize local entrepreneurs.
Present levels of income inequality and poverty are unsustainable. Present rates of growth on capital and high-income earnings together with low tax rates on high incomes and inheritances have resulted in immense wealth gains among the world’s top 1 percent. The worldwide wealth of the richest 1 percent now equals that of the remaining 99 percent. In addition to this stark level of inequality, there is also tremendous poverty, and hundreds of millions of people live in slum conditions.

Both inequality and poverty appear to be as great now as at any time in the past. Income inequality historically courses between peaks and troughs with wars, revolutions, and periods of high taxation creating the troughs. While we lack exact statistics, it appears that revolutions have historically occurred when income inequality reaches levels approximating those of today. To solve these issues, our urban areas should pursue the following policies: first, encourage entrepreneurs who create both jobs and new wealth; second, equalize educational opportunities between the poor and the wealthy; third, distribute low-income housing equally throughout the city to increase education and job opportunities for lower-income families; fourth, curtail public projects that benefit only the wealthy; fifth, encourage a society of authenticity, culture and work/life balance; and sixth, appropriately adjust tax policies that favor the wealthy.
World hunger is a function of poverty, not food production. The world is currently producing enough food to feed today’s population. However, the world’s poor do not have sufficient financial resources to overcome the causes of their lack of food. The most important factors are the use of a substantial amount of these food resources for the production of meat, food waste in its production, transportation and storage, over-consumption or obesity, and international food and agricultural aid policies. While all of these factors can be addressed at the urban level through an appropriate combination of education, regulation, and taxation, cities can also work with organizations to better produce food in their urban environments—be they on rooftops, empty lots, or brownfields.

Present levels of resource extraction are unsustainable. The earth’s resources are being extracted, consumed, and disposed at immense scales. Phosphorus, oil and natural gas, copper, zinc, aluminum, and iron are all non-renewal resources with known available reserves that will likely be economically depleted during the 21st century. Even if new sources or economic alternatives are found, sustainability demands that we conserve. Use of all such materials should be husbanded, and they should be recycled to the extent possible.
Trading economies. Trading has always been a major attribute to a society’s sustainability, as resources, skills, and industries present in the local economy are traded for goods available from other societies. Each region’s trading economy should be developed and supported so it is of long-term value to other regions, and of a nature and supply that is sustainable into the future
Regionalism. Authentic regional distinctions and their associated cultural identities provide residents with an important element of self-concept and contribute to a sense of belonging to a distinct and identifiable community. They also assist tourism and trade and attract individuals and firms with needed skills, jobs, and capital by offering a variety of cultural amenities. Unfortunately, other mediums work to dilute these distinctions and identities, including global media, retail franchising, and many examples of post-modern architecture. This dilution of regional identity works against the interests of a region’s tourism, trade and residents’ quality of life. An authentic regionalism should be encouraged and promoted.
Global finance and small business. Both the financial meltdown of 2007-08 and the Dodd-Frank response to it in the U.S. created a global financial system more attuned to large corporations than to smaller, entrepreneurial firms, which decreased both the formation and growth rates of small businesses. This in turn has had an impact on economic growth, especially in the U.S. Cities should not only encourage local and regional banks to make more small business loans available, but also encourage crowd-funding through incentives and other forms of financial support.
The Collaborative Commons. Historically, public ownership of and access to important Collaborative Commons, including but not limited to utilities, roads, waterways, schools, parks, entertainment, and cultural venues, has been considered a given. However, in today’s context, the Collaborative Commons also includes the internet, higher education, and basic health care. Where available, many of these Commons are now under threat of corporate ownership and thus profit-maximizing fees, or of being crowded out for funding due to mega-projects that are unresponsive to most citizens’ needs, such as Brazil’s 2016 Olympic village, which displaced thousands in its creation. Instead, societies should husband and improve these common amenities and resources and at low economic cost for all citizens, especially those who wish to opt out of developing and maintaining high per-capita incomes.
In effect, use of the Collaborative Commons can provide citizens with meaningful alternative pathways to the sacrifices of long hours and unsatisfying jobs too often necessary to acquire high-income jobs and attain wealth and access to education. And as the internet can provide the means for those in the developing world to vastly increase their quality of life as well as income levels, aid to these countries’ urban areas should be directed toward providing dependable, free and fast service.
Quality of life vs. economic enhancement. Historically, quality of life is associated with a sufficiency in food and necessary material goods together with engagement in a worthwhile activity, whether intellectual, religious, or familial. Enlightenment philosophies promoted a belief that scientific progress would increase societies’ overall quality of life through industrial and economic gains. However, two world wars, nuclear weapons, industrial pollution, and global warming tell us that the link is less direct. There is a need to refocus on the ethics of our current economy and what it is that truly enhances quality of life among a society’s participant. Planning and design should follow this focus.
One aspect of this refocusing and rebalancing is that large numbers of individuals would likely prefer to adjust their work/life balance to less work and less income, especially if there are significant Collaborative Commons available for their lifestyle. The coming era of automation and artificial intelligence may well cause this shift to be necessary. It will require urban governments to find ways to provide sufficient amenities free or at low cost, such as internet access, transportation, parks, health care, art and entertainment venues, exercise and sports options, plus other opportunities for socialization and engagement.
Home ownership and pricing. Government-sponsored housing finance was successful when the U.S. and the developed world were growing at a fast pace. However, the financial meltdown of 2008 destroyed many families’ equity, and housing markets have been spotty in their recovery. Home ownership is appropriate for many families when population growth is strong, but the benefits may evaporate when population growth and housing demand stagnate. Policies and programs that encourage or favor urban home ownership should be directly tied to the region’s and/or nation’s immigration and population growth policies.
Revitalization vs. gentrification. From the beginning of urban renewal, planners have worked to re-envision and rebuild slums. The result too often has been displacement of the urban poor, whether through gentrification or the bulldozers of “economic development.” The revitalization of Harlem in the 1990s and early 2000s demonstrated that well-designed revitalization efforts, which included programs for small business and job creation, along with low-income housing targeted at local residents, can improve neighborhoods both physically and economically, while keeping the vast majority of residents in place.
Economic realignment. Significant societal realignments have occurred over the past 600 years as new economic regimes have replaced previous ones: from feudalism to colonialism to the present regime of global corporate capitalism. We now appear to be entering the latest realignment: an economy defined by robot assembly, artificial intelligence, zero marginal costs of production, and a sharing economy. We need to encourage the positive aspects of these changes and prepare our urban areas for realignment, which will include a significant increase in the turnover of wealth, thus reducing, at least temporarily, income inequality. This entrepreneurial spirit and the interconnectivity it will bring should be encouraged, but with checks and balances regarding privacy, freedom of access, and the potential for heightened income inequality.
Creative destruction. Economic realignment is just one aspect of the force of creative destruction. This is an engine for societal progress and income redistribution as entrenched economic interests falter while new, smaller, more creative and nimble entrepreneurial firms flourish and create jobs. Over 50 percent of the Fortune 500 companies have been delisted since 2000, and the new digital economy accounts for most of the new companies listed. Unfortunately, politicians and bureaucracies tend to assist and promote entrenched economic interests instead of newer entrepreneurs. The cities that sustainably embrace such creative destruction will be the cities of the future.
Time value of money vs. sustainability. The fundamental dogma of the time value of money is that today’s funds are worth more than tomorrow’s. This creates several problems. The first is that this value concept is clearly not consistent with long-term inter-generational sustainability. Second, most non-renewable resources will have a higher relative value to future generations than they have today for a profit-seeking corporation. Third, for-profit corporations seeking to maximize shareholder wealth are intrinsically set up to reject sustainable projects that only provide fair profits in the long run. As a society, we need to reconsider the appropriateness of corporate ownership of valuable non-renewable resources and find fair ways to convert these resources to public and/or non-profit ownership.
Integrating these economic strategies will enhance the sustainability and resiliency of our cities, lessen income inequality, and reduce poverty, and together with the following strategies for an urban ecology, political regimes, and cultural life, will lead to a higher quality of life for all urban citizens.
While free market forces will force corrective responses to many of our challenges, the tipping points for these corrections may come too late for many of society’s least economically resourceful members, with potentially dire consequences for all of society.
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Glenn Robert Erikson is a member of the World Policy Institute Advisory Council.

Press link for more: worldpolicy.org

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Strategizing Urban Policies for the Anthropocene #Auspol 

The effects of human activity on the environment over the past few centuries have given rise to some of today’s most pressing challenges. This article is the first in a five-part series outlining economic, ecological, political, and cultural stratgies for creating a more sustainable and equitable world.

By Glenn Robert Erikson
Many ecologists are disheartened by what is being called the Anthropocene Age, characterized by humans’ capricious manipulation of the environment. The result is the loss of thousands of species; dangerous declines in genetic diversity; increasing ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, warming our world; and the initiation of a devastating rise in sea levels. Meanwhile, economists decry income inequality caused by our present mode of global corporate capitalism while predicting the elimination of millions of jobs through the automation of factory production. Others theorize the potential for economic disruption in the form of a post-capitalist economy. Urban planners decry current levels of poverty and the lack of quality, affordable housing, while demographers predict that the current world population could double by 2100 and that migration could skyrocket from rural areas to mega metropolises unable to provide for newcomers. Regrettably, most of heavily populated cities are near coasts, in areas most threatened by rising sea levels. Clearly, some of the policies of the past 200 years exacerbated problems to the point that they will lead to outright catastrophes. 
At the same time, many politicians seem more concerned with ideology or raising money than with solving problems, and too many policy-makers are locked into old stratagems—many of which are post-colonial, racist, and sexist. Attempting to break out of this deadlock, some researchers and theorists are proposing digital system analytics; others look to foment a socialist revolt of the growing, but until now disparate, groups of urban poor and disenfranchised people. Neither of these paths, however, will solve underlying problems and provide for the quality of life we would like everyone to have.

It is time to reconsider our situation. Jared Diamond writes, in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, that the success or failure of historical societies was defined not by environmental and cultural challenges but rather by the societies’ responses to these challenges. The tragic contrast between the collapse of Haiti and the success of the Dominican Republic on their shared island of Hispaniola offers a dramatic example of his thesis. Overpopulation, tremendous economic and power inequalities, democratic failures, and environmental mismanagement led to Haiti’s downward path. Yet with very similar initial conditions, the Dominican Republic has been able to prosper. The first issue that must be addressed is preventing collapses in the short run; the second is to promote environmental and economic sustainability in the long run.
Diamond goes on to show that the leading causes of societal collapse from environmental impacts have been the long-term loss of arable land, lower crop yields due to rapid climate change, and a too-quick rise in population. These issues are fairly well known, even if they are not accepted by some political elites who are less scientifically attuned. However, citizens living in urban areas tend to be more aware of environmental problems and are more open to implementing solutions than are political elites. Therefore, achieving sustainable urban policies (as opposed to national policies) is more likely attainable, at least in the near term. A set of urban policy strategies, as proposed here, can provide the basis for individual urban areas to create region-wide, integrated models that can be applied to national and global contexts.
In our pursuit to improve living conditions worldwide, should we risk environmental collapse, or should we accept a sustainable world that is forever separated into haves and have-nots? The answer hinges on how much we value consumer goods, considered an essential element in the Western notion of “standard of living.” The other attributes important to quality of life—such as freedom, health, family, friends, education, and a satisfying work and cultural life—are conceivably attainable without risking environmental collapse.

A grand strategy is necessary to achieve the goal of a sustainable urban world with a high quality of life for all citizens. Combining and integrating critical theory, critical urban theory, and engaged theory provides the overall principles for a “Critically Engaged Urban Theory.” It can be outlined as follows: Increasing the availability of the components of “quality of life” improves the human condition, maximizing personal freedom and assisting individual engagement in the pursuit of happiness. We must free the objective of attaining high income and wealth from our pursuit of a high global quality of life, recognize that creative destruction will likely be necessary to achieve positive change in urban spaces, and expand the concept of sustainability to include our ethical relationship to both the global population and the earth’s ecology. 
The first step is to steer society away from potential collapse, and the second will be to develop a sustainable relationship with our ecosystems while improving living conditions for all. The next four articles in this series will cover economic, ecological, political, and cultural issues, providing insights into challenges we must confront and strategies we can use to overcome them.
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Glenn Robert Erikson is a member of the World Policy Institute Advisory Council.

Press link for more: worldpolicy.org

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Strategies for Urban Ecology #auspol 

The effects of human activity on the environment over the past few centuries have given rise to some of today’s most pressing challenges. This article is the third in a five-part series outlining economic, ecological, political, and cultural stratgies for creating a more sustainable and equitable world.
By Glenn Robert Erikson
History is littered with civilizations whose cities suffered ecological collapses, from the Fertile Crescent to the Indus Valley to the Mayans, Anasazi, and many, many others. As we enter the Anthropocene, we must learn from their mistakes and correct our own civilization’s similar trajectory of inadequate responses to overpopulation, resource extraction, climatic changes, mass extinctions, and more.

Ecological balance. Cities that have existed for centuries, or even millennia, owe their survival to reaching a sustainable balance with their local ecologies. Those that did not meet the challenge ultimately collapsed. Most cities today are significantly out of balance with their environments, given the last 300 years of continuous growth and industrialization. Rebalancing our urban areas with their regional ecologies will require extensive analysis of ecosystems, sustainable energy production, sufficient water supplies, ecologically safe waste recycling, environmentally sustainable materials sourcing, and maintenance of appropriate population levels.

Global warming. For the past 1.8 million years the earth’s glacial-interglacial, or Ice Age, cycles have stayed relatively consistent. Based on the historical lengths of these cycles, the earth would now be beginning to transition into a new Ice Age had we not intervened with man-made warming. Our greenhouse gas production since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, however, is more than enough to prevent a new Ice Age. If we wish to resume production that creates unnaturally high levels of greenhouse gases at some point in the future, for now we must halt greenhouse gas emissions, affordably recycle an appropriate quantity of these gases out of the atmosphere, and conserve petrochemical resources.


Planning for rising oceans. Oceans and seas have maintained near-constant levels throughout recorded history, despite considerable variation over geologic time. Due to global warming they will now rise substantially (10-30 feet is probable, while 100+ feet is possible) during this century, flooding many coastal areas. Over 3 billion people now reside in areas less than 33 feet above current sea levels. With planning, some negative impacts can at least be minimized for urban populations. Densely built-up areas should plan for sea walls, berms, and the fortification of harbors with floodgates; other urban communities should direct growth to areas with higher elevations and use earthmovers to fill in low-lying areas they wish to save. Where possible, low-lying populated areas can be completely converted to estuaries and parkland, while settlements can be rebuilt elsewhere. If none of these are viable options, some areas will simply need to be abandoned.

Mass extinction. The past 200 years have seen a surge in global population, resulting in a tremendous expansion of agricultural fields and grazing ranges, the over-harvesting of game and fish, the extensive loss of natural habitat, widespread pollution, the degradation of ecosystems, and the worldwide spread of invasive species. In the last 20 years alone we have lost 10 percent of the planet’s wilderness areas. This perfect storm has resulted in global mass extinction and diminished biodiversity. To reduce the rate of extinction, we need to preserve as much of the natural landscape as we can by halting deforestation, slowing population growth and transferring some of that growth from rural to urban areas, lowering demand for animal food sources, more efficiently utilizing agricultural lands, and minimizing the use of pesticides.   

Delays to renewable energy transformation. The extent of existing urban petroleum infrastructure in developed countries, together with high debt loads in dozens of poorer countries, is delaying a transition to a global renewable energy infrastructure. This process can be accelerated by first adopting conservation measures and funding smaller start-up projects to reduce governments’ institutional energy costs, thereby freeing up financial resources for the transition. Next, large infrastructure projects with all-inclusive financing should undergo competitive bidding processes.


Sprawl vs. urban growth. Sprawl occurs primarily where national subsidies and local zoning codes encourage, or even enforce, this pattern of infrastructure development. Sprawl eats up valuable resources, fractures and destroys important ecosystems, and increases pollution and jobs/housing imbalances. Viable solutions to managing projected growth do exist, from revitalizing and expanding existing downtowns to creating new cities. Between these two extremes are many options. Suburban and urban pockets can be transformed into new urban centers by increasing access to mass transit, through such means as expanded highways, light rail transit, dedicated bus lanes, or (in the near future) dedicated lanes for autonomous vehicles. Urbanizing these outlying areas can enhance diversity and density within a broader urban region without increasing the overall footprint on the surrounding landscape.   
New urbanism and edge cities. These relatively new forms of urban development, typified by the Walt Disney Corporation’s Celebration town in Florida and the unincorporated edge city Tyson’s Corner in Virginia, are centers of increased density in the sea of suburbia. However, as privately owned and managed entities, they also tend toward exclusionary practices and lack income equality, job and housing balance, and urban vitality. They also lack public commons and adequate citizen involvement. Thus, there is a need to open these areas up to the public, increase diversity and density, and connect them to the rest of the city with mass transit.
Water supply and quality. In many urban areas, growth has outpaced available water supplies, climate change will exacerbate this problem as rainfall drops in the coming decades. In some areas, water will need to be re-priced to minimize waste, with a sustenance supply provided at low cost for all residents but high costs imposed for additional usage. Other areas will require substantial planning for and infrastructure investments in water recycling or desalination. Where contamination is a problem, “upriver” water supplies will need to be protected from agricultural fertilizers or animal waste.
Regional agriculture and food supplies. Farmers have always selected desirable traits in plants used in agriculture. More recent genetic engineering has been accompanied by an ever-growing use of herbicides, while “superweeds” have developed resistance and ecologically deficient crop management methods have become more common. Many herbicides are harmful to humans, even in small amounts, and as use increases, so does their danger. Urban governments can support further research in enhanced farming systems and crop breeding programs that are not dependent on herbicides. Food labeling laws should be developed and enforced to inform consumers when known cancer agents—such as herbicides, pesticides, growth hormones, or other additives—are used during food production.
Food dumping vs. emergency relief. When international agencies provide food on a regular basis to poor countries, instead of only when emergency relief is needed, they create a post-colonial dependency as local farmers unable to sell their goods become dependent on food aid themselves. International funds should instead be directed to developing local agriculture.
Wasteful agricultural methods. Agricultural systems need to be transformed to reduce waste and feed the world population more efficiently and effectively. For example, corn subsidized and grown for ethanol in the U.S. keeps corn prices artificially high, and prevents agricultural lands from being used for food production. Global food markets can also produce waste—palm trees grown in the less developed world for consumption primarily in the developed world withholds agricultural lands from production of local food supplies. In the developing world, city governments should work with national governments to disincentivize agricultural export at the expense of meeting domestic food needs.
Design methodology. Ancient cities grew incrementally, and in the process respected and worked with natural landforms. However, as the combination of gridded city plans and 20th-century suburbia have extended urban sprawl, the natural topography has too often been treated as an obstacle to be overcome instead of an enhancement to planning and design. While autocratic design solutions overwhelm naturally occurring formations and contribute to a sense of sameness and disconnectedness, emerging urban design should take cues from native ecologies and natural terrains.
The street and the sidewalk. Before 1900, cities were generally designed for walking. Buildings presented appropriate street fronts lined with stoops, balconies, retail shops, and human-scaled entrances. Pedestrians could safely walk in the street as horse-drawn carriages and trolleys moved at a slow pace. The automobile industry lobbied for 30 mph speeds on city streets, which forever changed the streets’ pedestrian character. Zoning has also insulated residential structures from downtown retail and employment, requiring setbacks and parking standards that further deadened streets, especially those in downtown areas in the evenings, which then invited crime. We need to revitalize our streets and sidewalks by increasing the diversity and density of pedestrian-friendly uses.

The failure to create an ecological planning and architectural movement. We have not yet fully developed an architecture that minimizes environmental destruction, in spite of good intentions, many fine individual projects, and LEED and Passive Building certifications. Institutional clients, developers, design educators, architectural publications, and design competitions should require that designs resonate with the regional environment. Ideally, each building should be a self-sustaining, living member of the ecology in which it is set. City building departments can assist in this endeavor by requiring architects to certify that their buildings meet LEED and/or Passive Building standards.  
The above strategies can pull developed economies away from trends that lead to a potential ecological abyss, as well as provide a path for both developed and developing countries toward a sustainable and equitable future. 
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Glenn Robert Erikson is a member of the World Policy Institute Advisory Council.

Press link for more: worldpolicy.org

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Why the Extinction Crisis isn’t just about the Environment. #auspol

Why the Extinction Crisis Isn’t Just About the Environment, but Social Justice
The following excerpt is from Ashley Dawson’s new book, Extinction: A Radical History (OR Books, 2016)
The philosophy of ‘in the long run we are all dead’ has guided economic development in the First and Third Worlds, in both socialist and capitalist countries. These processes of development have brought, in some areas and for some people, a genuine and substantial increase in human welfare. But they have also been marked by a profound insensitivity to the environment, a callous disregard for the needs of generations to come… It is what we know as the ‘global green movement’ that has most insistently moved people and governments beyond this crippling shortsightedness, by struggling for a world where the tiger shall still roam the forests of the Sunderbans and the lion stalk majestically across the African plain, where the harvest of nature may be more justly distributed across the members of the human species, where our children might more freely drink the water of our rivers and breathe the air of our cities. –Ramachandra Guha, Environmentalism: A Global History

If mainstream environmentalism has been coopted by such neoliberal policies, what would a radical anti-capitalist conservation movement look like? It would begin from the understanding that the extinction crisis is at once an environmental issue and a social justice issue, one that is linked to long histories of capitalist domination over specific people, animals, and plants. The extinction crisis needs to be seen as a key element in contemporary struggles against accumulation by dispossession. This crisis, in other words, ought to be a key issue in the fight for climate justice. If techno-fixes such as deextinction facilitate new rounds of biocapitalist accumulation, an anti-capitalist movement against extinction must be framed in terms of a refusal to turn land, people, flora, and fauna into commodities. We must reject capitalist biopiracy and imperialist enclosure of the global commons, particularly when they cloak themselves in arguments about preserving biodiversity. Forums for enclosure such as the UNFCCC’s Business and Biodiversity Initiative must be recognized for what they are and shut down. Most of all, an anti-capitalist conservation movement must challenge the privatization of the genome as a form of intellectual property, to be turned into an organic factory for the benefit of global elites. Synthetic biology should be regulated. The genomic information of plants, animals, and human beings is the common wealth of the planet, and all efforts to make use of this environmental commons must be framed around principles of equality, solidarity, and environmental and climate justice.

Even well-meaning efforts to address extinction such as rewilding need to be challenged if they are not founded on considerations of globally redistributive climate justice. All too often rewilding schemes focus exclusively on wealthy areas of the planet. For instance, George Monbiot’s “Manifesto for Rewilding the World” speaks exclusively of European rewilding schemes, and concludes by asking why Europe should not have a Serengeti or two. This begs the question of what responsibility Europe has for Tanzania’s Serengeti Park itself, as well as other wilderness areas in the global South. The record in this regard is deplorable. In 2013, for instance, Ecuador abandoned its Yasuni-ITT Initiative, which would the South? Moreover, if rewilding is seen as a way of saving charismatic African megafauna like the elephant from destruction by importing them to the badlands of Western Europe or North America, it will all too easily become a latterday form of imperial ecology, creating glorified zoos stocked with purloined African and Asian wildlife. Finally, rewilding makes strong arguments about the pivotal role of keystone species, but, in so doing, tends to reproduce the traditional bias in Western conservation efforts towards the large, the beautiful, and the charismatic. It is not a solution for the vast majority of flora and fauna threatened with extinction today.

An anti-capitalist conservation movement must not only be aware of histories of colonial expropriation of flora and fauna, but should focus on ways of fighting such forms of exploitation today. Wildlife in parks such as the Serengeti was revived following centuries of European colonial big-game hunting of native animals. Today, well-armed poachers again threaten megafauna in the world’s remaining biodiversity hotspots. While the poachers tend to send their culls of elephant tusks and rhino horns mainly to foreign markets, in most cases their weapons come from decades of proxy battles during the Cold War. Moreover, African states are often unable to challenge these poachers as a result of IMF and World Bank-administered structural adjustment policies that have left countries in the global South on the brink of collapse. Efforts to deal with the extinction crisis cannot focus on rewilding the global North alone, nor should they focus exclusively on interdiction of the global traffic in wildlife. An anti-capitalist movement against extinction must also address the fundamental economic and political inequalities that drive the slaughter of megafauna. The extinction crisis should be framed in the context of a new wave of extractivism that is denuding many poor nations, shunting their minerals, flora, and fauna to consumer markets in industrialized nations. This new extractivism should be seen for what it is: a fresh wave of imperialism that is decimating poorer nations by removing the biological foundation of their collective future.


What would be the shape and fundamental goals of an expansive anti-capitalist movement against extinction and for environmental justice? It would have to commence with open recognition by the developed nations of the long history of ecocide charted in this book. Such an admission would lead to a consequent recognition of the biodiversity debt owed by the wealthy nations of the global North to the South. Building on the demands articulated by the climate justice movement, the anti-capitalist conservation movement must demand the repayment of this biodiversity debt. How would this repayment take place? As REDD demonstrates, states in the global South cannot always be counted on to disburse funds received from the North in a just manner; indeed, at present they collude all too often with resource exploiting corporations by displacing genuine land stewards such as indigenous and forest-dwelling peoples. The climate justice movement’s call for a universal guaranteed income for inhabitants of nations who are owed climate debt should serve as a model here. Why not begin a model initiative for such a carbon and biodiversity-based guaranteed income program in the planet’s biodiversity hotspots? Of the twenty five terrestrial biodiversity hotspots, fifteen are covered primarily by tropical rainforests, and consequently are also key sites for the absorption of carbon pollution. These threatened ecosystems include the moist tropical woodlands of Brazil’s Atlantic coast, southern Mexico with Central America, the tropical Andes, the Greater Antilles, West Africa, Madagascar, the Western Ghats of India, Indo-Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, and New Caledonia. They make up only 1.4% of the Earth’s surface, and yet, according to E.O. Wilson, these regions are “the exclusive homes of 44% of the world’s plant species and more than a third of all species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.” All of these areas are under heavy assault from the forces of enclosure and ecocide. A universal guaranteed income for the inhabitants of these hotspots would create a genuine counterweight to the attractions of poaching, and would entitle the indigenous and forest-dwelling peoples who make these zones of rich biodiversity their homes with the economic and political power to push their governments to implement significant conservation measures.

Where would the capital for such a guaranteed income program for biodiversity hotspots come from? There is certainly no shortage of assets. As Andrew Sayer has argued, the 1% have accumulated their increasingly massive share of global wealth by siphoning off collectively produced surpluses not through hard work but through financial machinations such as dividends, capital gains, interests, and rent, much of which is then hidden in tax havens. Indeed, if we consider the massive upward transfer of global wealth that has taken place over the last half century, it would be fair to say that never before was so much owed by so few to so many. One way to claw back some of this common wealth would be through a financial transactions tax of the kind proposed by James Tobin. Such a Robin Hood tax, of even only a very small percentage of the speculative global capital flows that enrich the 1%, would generate billions of dollars to help people conserve hotspots of global biodiversity. Such funds could also be devoted to ramping up renewable energy-generating infrastructures in both the rich and the developing countries.


Yet a universal guaranteed income in recognition of biodiversity debt should not be a replacement for existing conservation programs. Instead, such a measure should be seen as an effort to inject an awareness of environmental and climate justice into debates around the extinction crisis. Biodiversity debt would thus augment existing conservation programs while militating against the creation of conservation refugees. In addition, rewilding and de-extinction, despite their significant flaws, may have a place in an anti-capitalist conservation movement, but only if they are reframed in terms of the history of ecocide. Rewilding, for instance, should not be undertaken in the global North without a commensurate pledge of economic assistance for conservation and rewilding of areas in the global South, whose present depleted state is often a direct product of the North’s extractive industries, from plantation slavery to the latest round of land grabs. Similarly, de-extinction may be employed judiciously, for example to reintroduce extinct versions of genes into species that have lost a dangerous amount of genetic diversity. Such efforts should, however, be designed to conserve existing biodiversity, particularly in endangered hotspots, rather than to resurrect extinct charismatic megafauna from the grave.
Any and all such efforts to work against extinction should be undertaken as acts of environmental solidarity on the part of the peoples of the global North with the true stewards of the planet’s biodiversity, the people of the global South. Only in this way can the struggle against extinction help promote not simply forgiveness and reconciliation, but also survival after five hundred years of colonial and imperial ecocide.
The struggle to preserve global biodiversity must be seen as an integral part of a broader fight to challenge an economic and social system based on feckless, suicidal expansion. If, as we have seen, capitalism is based on ceaseless compound growth that is destroying ecosystems the world over, the goal in the rich nations of the global North must be to overturn our present expansionary system by fostering de-growth . Most importantly, nations that have benefited from burning fossil fuels must radically cut their carbon emissions in order to stem the lurch towards runaway climate chaos that endangers the vast majority of current terrestrial forms of life. Rather than false and impractical solutions such as the carbon trading and geoengineering schemes championed by advocates of neoliberal responses to the climate crisis, anti-capitalists should fight for some version of the contraction and convergence approach proposed by the Global Commons Institute. This proposal is based on moving towards a situation in which all nations have the same level of emissions per person (convergence) while contracting them to a level that is sustainable (contraction).
A country such as the United States, which has only 5% of the global population, would be allowed no more than 5% of globally sustainable emissions. Such a move would represent a dramatic anti-imperialist shift since the US is at present responsible for 25% of carbon emissions. The powerful individuals and corporations that control nations like the US are not likely to accept such revolutionary curtailments of the wasteful system that supports them without a struggle. Already there is abundant evidence that they would sooner destroy the planet than let even a modicum of their power slip. Massive fossil fuel corporations such as Exxon, for example, have funded climate change denialism for the past quarter century despite abundant evidence from their own scientists that burning fossil fuels was creating unsustainable environmental conditions.130 Such behavior should be seen frankly for what it is: a crime against humanity. We should not expect to negotiate with such destructive entities. Their assets should be seized. Most of these assets, in the form of fossil fuel reserves, cannot be used anyway if we are to avert environmental catastrophe. What remains of these assets should be used to fund a rapid, managed reduction in carbon emissions and a transition to renewable energy generation.
These steps should be part of a broader program to transform the current, unsustainable capitalist system that dominates the world into steady state societies founded on principles of equality and environmental justice.

Press link for more: alternet.org

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Time To Prepare For The One Degree War. 

TIME TO PREPARE FOR THE ONE DEGREE WAR

By Paul Gilding

Amidst the noise of the day-to-day debates, we have lost sight of the simple logic of the advice coming from the world’s top climate scientists. Despite the uncertainties in the details, the science carries one underlying message from which we can draw only one rational conclusion.
It is time to declare a global emergency and mobilise all available resources, political will and human ingenuity towards one task – to reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change to an acceptable level.

Today, we are releasing a paper detailing our response to this conclusion. ‘The One Degree War Plan’ began to take form a few years ago, the product of a challenging conversation between myself and Professor Jorgen Randers. Jorgen, a lifelong advocate for action on sustainability, rose to prominence in 1972 as one of the original authors of the Club of Rome’s famous “Limits to Growth”, the bestselling environmental book of all time – over 30 million copies in 37 different languages.


Jorgen and I had both accepted the scientific reality and were discussing the question it posed – what would a rational response to the climate science look like? If you stripped away all the politics and debate and took a fresh look, what would be the logical action plan?

In 2008, after many more such conversations, we decided that we needed to articulate our answer to that question, in detail and on paper.
We started by considering what the science meant, in human terms. This was the simple part, as the peer-reviewed climate science is very clear on the level of risk. There is a high degree of certainty that humanity will face severe disruption to the global economy and society, with widespread economic damage, geopolitical instability and human suffering. Perhaps more importantly, there is a lower but still material risk of catastrophic collapse and tipping points being past that would see the effective collapse of our current civilisation and economy. Once this was understood, we could begin to consider what a logical response to this level of risk would be.

But before we got there, we made another initial but fundamental conclusion: that the momentum in the climate system is now so great that the world will, before long, wake up to a threat of this magnitude. It will recognise that despite the remaining uncertainties, we cannot afford to risk the collapse of the global economy and civilisation. Thus an appropriate response – one that recognises the science and the true scale of the risk – will occur.
When this emergency response is designed, we concluded it would need to aim to bring warming below 1 degree, and therefore, CO2e concentrations below 350ppm. Anything less would leave civilisation at too great a risk of catastrophe, and would therefore be irrational. Our remaining task was then to develop a plan of action that was capable of achieving this outcome.
The attached paper is the result. It has taken over a year of development and research, including considerable feedback from colleagues and modelling by C-Roads, the climate simulator developed by MIT, the Sustainability Institute and Ventana Systems.
We were actually surprised by the outcome of our work, which showed that not only is One Degree and 350ppm possible, it is surprisingly achievable and practical. It certainly requires that we act very soon and that we act with a level of determination and commitment not seen since WWII, but it can be achieved. In recognition of this comparison, we called our paper The One Degree War Plan. It is a plan that shows what humanity can achieve – and we believe will achieve – when it develops a rational response to the climate threat.
We are releasing our paper for public reaction and comment, because we recognise that this is not an intellectual exercise. A response like the One Degree War Plan, if it is to be implemented, is going to require years of development by global experts across many disciplines. It will also require strong public support globally if our political leaders are to have the courage to adopt such an approach. This in turn will only happen if many millions of people engage and decide that, in the end, we are a rational species and this is the way forward we consciously choose to take.
Building a robust plan and the support to implement it is of course an enormous task. So we think now is a good time to start.
We encourage you to consider this paper, to circulate it amongst your networks and to help us together build the courage we need to face reality.

Press here for more: Paul Gilding