"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors."
Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist, suggests seven key concepts for transitioning from the illusion of "endless growth" to a realistic goal of "thriving in balance" for humanity and the human habitat:
1. Change the goal -- from GDP to Doughnut.
2. See the big picture -- from self-contained market to embedded economy.
3. Nurture human nature -- from rational economic man to social adaptable humans.
4. Get savvy with systems -- from mechanical equilibrium to dynamic complexity.
5. Design to distribute -- from 'growth will even it up again' to distributive design.
6. Create to regenerate -- from 'growth will clean it up again' to regenerative by design.
7. Be agnostic about growth -- from growth addicted to growth agnostic.
The Elders are an independent group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights. Contact them and support their work for the common good. See personal stories of people making a difference in their communities. DO SOMETHING!
2. Discerning the Signs of the Times in Human Ecology
Beyond ‘No’ and the Limits of ‘Yes’: A Review of Naomi Klein’s ‘No Is Not Enough’
This article was originally published in
Resilience, 20 June 2017 under a Creative Commons License
Naomi Klein understands that President Donald J. Trump is a problem, but he is not the problem.
In her new book, “No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need”, Klein reminds us to pay attention not only to the style in which Trump governs (a multi-ring circus so routinely corrupt and corrosive that anti-democratic practices seem normal) but in whose interests he governs (the wealthy, those he believes to be the rightful winners in the capitalist cage match), while recognizing the historical forces that make his administration possible (decades of market-fundamentalist/neoliberal rejection of the idea of a collective good).
Klein, one of the most prominent and insightful leftist writers in North America for two decades, analyzes how Trump’s “genius” for branding, magnified by his reality TV success, carried him to the White House. But while we may have been shocked by the election of Trump — not just another celebrity but the ultimate “hollow brand” that adds no tangible value to society — she argues that we should not have been surprised:
Trump is not a rupture at all, but rather the culmination — the logical end point — of a great many dangerous stories our culture has been telling for a very long time. That greed is good. That the market rules. That money is what matters in life. That white men are better than the rest. That the natural world is there for us to pillage. That the vulnerable deserve their fate and the one percent deserve their golden towers. That anything public or commonly held is sinister and not worth protecting. That we are surrounded by danger and should only look after our own. That there is no alternative to any of this (pp. 257-258).
Underneath all these pathologies, Klein explains, is “a dominance-based logic that treats so many people, and the earth itself, as disposable” (p. 233), which gives rise to “a system based on limitless taking and extracting, on maximum grabbing” that “treats people and the earth either like resources to be mined to their limits or as garbage to be disposed of far out of sight, whether deep in the ocean or deep in a prison cell” (p. 240).
Klein’s book does not stop with an analysis of the crises, outlining a resistance politics that not only rejects this domination/subordination dynamic but proceeds “with care and consent, rather than extractively and through force” (p. 241). In addition to the “no” to the existing order, there must be a “yes” to other values, which she illustrates with the story behind the 2015 Leap Manifesto (“A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another”) that she helped draft.
Klein believes the expansive possibilities of those many yeses are visible in Bernie Sanders’ campaign and others like it around the world. Near the end of the book she lists ideas already on the table: “free college tuition, double the minimum wage, 100 percent renewable energy as quickly as technology allows, demilitarize the police, prisons are no place for young people, refugees are welcome here, war makes us less safe.” She goes on to identify more ambitious programs and policies: “Reparations for slavery and colonialism? A Marshall Plan to fight violence against women? Prison abolition? Democratic worker co-ops as the centerpiece of a green jobs program? An abandonment of ‘growth’ as a measure of progress? Why not?” (p. 263).
Klein is not naïve about what it will take to achieve these goals but stresses the possibilities; “there is reason to believe that many of the relationships being built in these early days [of the Trump administration] will be strong enough to counter the fear that inevitably sets in during a state of emergency” (p. 208).
Recognizing that the 2008 financial crisis created opportunities for more radical change that were lost not only because of the Obama administration’s cautious, centrist approach but because of progressive movements’ timidity, she reminds us that the most important changes in the past (expansions of justice and freedom post-Civil War, during the New Deal, and in the 1960s and ‘70s) “were responses to crises that unfolded in times when people dared to dream big, out loud, in public — explosions of utopian imagination” (p. 217).
Klein is right to challenge the pessimism that so easily sets in when we capitulate to the idea that radical change is politically impossible because of the success of decades of right-wing propaganda and organizing in the United States. Politics is a human enterprise, and therefore humans can change it. Utopian thinking in these realms is to be encouraged, as movements build the capacity to move us toward those goals.
My only critique of Klein’s book — and it is not a minor point — is that while reminding us not to accept artificial, self-imposed limits on social/economic/political fronts, it glosses over the much different status of the biophysical limits we must work within. Klein’s 2014 book on climate change demonstrated how thoroughly she understands what my late friend Jim Koplin called the “multiple, cascading ecological crises” of our time. But what are the implications of facing those crises?
Go back to Klein’s list of programs, which includes “100 percent renewable energy as quickly as technology allows,” alongside such goals as free tuition and a doubled minimum wage. These are very different kinds of projects that shouldn’t be conflated. By building a stronger left/progressive movement, greater equity in higher education and fairer wages could be won. But much more difficult challenges are hidden in “100 percent renewable energy.”
First, and most painful, is the recognition that no combination of renewable resources is going to power the world in which we now live — 7.4 billion people, many living at some level of First World affluence. That doesn’t just mean the end of luxury lifestyles of the rich and famous, nor just the end of middle-class amenities such as routine air conditioning, cheap jet air travel, and fresh fruits and vegetables from the other side of the world. We are going to have to face giving up what we have come to believe we “need” to survive, what Wallace Stegner once termed “things that once possessed could not be done without.” If you have trouble imagining an example, look around at the people poking at their “smart” phones, or walk into a grocery store and survey the endless aisles of food kept “cheap” by fossil-fuel inputs.
There is no magic algorithm to answer that question. Everyone’s response will be a mix of evidence, hunches, and theology (defined not as claims about God but ideas about what it means to be human, to live a good life). I’m not confident that I have an inside track on this, but I’m fairly sure that the answer is “a lot fewer people than there are now, living at much lower levels of consumption.”
There are biophysical limits that we can’t wish away because they are inconvenient, and they limit our social/political/economic options. Those realities include not only global warming but an array of phenomena, all interconnected: accelerating extinction of species and reduction of biodiversity; overexploitation of resources (through logging, hunting, fishing) and agricultural activities (farming, livestock, timber plantations, aquaculture), including the crucial problem of soil erosion; increase in sea levels threatening coastal areas; acidification of the ocean; and amplified, less predictable threats from wildfires, floods, droughts, and heat waves. We are no longer talking about localized environmental degradation but global tipping points we may have already reached and some planetary boundaries that have been breached. The news is bad, getting worse, and getting worse faster than most scientists had predicted.
The goal of traditional left politics — sometimes explicitly, often implicitly — has been to bring more people into the affluence of the First World, with the contemporary green version imagining this will happen magically through solar panels and wind turbines for all. Honest ecological evaluations indicate that in addition to the core left/progressive goal of equity within the human family, we have to think what kind of human presence ecosystems can sustain.
A simple example, but one that is rarely discussed: A national health insurance program that equalizes access to treatment is needed, but what level of high-tech medicine will we be able to provide in a lower-energy world? That question requires a deeper conversation that we have not yet had about what defines a good life and what kinds of life-extending treatment now seen as routine in the First World will not be feasible in the future. Instead of rationing health care by wealth, a decent society should make these difficult decisions collectively, and this kind of ethical rationing will require blunt, honest conversations about limits.
Here’s another example: Increasing the amount of organic food grown on farms using few or no petrochemical inputs is needed, but that style of agriculture will require many to return to a countryside that has been depopulated by industrial agriculture and consumer culture. If we are to increase what Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry call “the eyes-to-acres ratio” — more farmers available to do the work necessary to take better care of the land — how will we collectively make the decisions needed in moving people from cosmopolitan cities, which young people tend to find attractive, to rural communities that may seem less exciting to many?
My point is not that I have answers, but that we have yet to explore these questions in any meaningful depth, and the ecosphere is going to force them on us whether or not we are ready. If we leave such questions to be answered by the mainstream culture — within the existing distributions of wealth and power, based on that logic of domination/subordination — the outcomes will be unjust and inhumane. We need to continue left/progressive organizing in response to contemporary injustices, not only for the short-term progress that can be made to strengthen communities and protect vulnerable people but also to build networks and capacities to face what’s coming.
To ignore the ecological realities that make these questions relevant is not hope but folly; to not incorporate biophysical limits into our organizing is to guarantee failure. Until we can acknowledge the inevitability of this kind of transition — which will be unlike anything we’ve faced in human history — we cannot plan for it. And we cannot acknowledge that it’s coming without a shared commitment not only to hope but grief. What lies ahead — coming in a time frame no one can predict, but coming — will be an unprecedented challenge for humans, and we are not ready.
Saying no to the pathological domination/subordination dynamic at the heart of the dominant culture is the starting point. Then we say yes to the capacity for caring collaboration that we yearn for. But we also must accept that the systems of the larger living world — the physics and chemistry of the ecosphere — set the boundaries within which we say no and yes.
No one can predict when or how this will play out, but at this moment in history the best we can say about the fate of the human species is “maybe.”
We have a chance for some kind of decent human future, if we can face the challenges honestly: How do we hold onto the best of our human nature (that striving for connection) in the face of existing systems that glorify the worst (individual greed and human cruelty)? All that we dream is not possible, but something better than what we have created certainly is within our reach. We should stop fussing about hope, which seduces too many to turn away from difficult realities. Let’s embrace the joy that always exists in the possible, and also embrace the grief in what is not.
We must dare to dream big, and we must face our nightmares.
As I tell my students over and over, reasonable people with shared values can disagree, and friends and allies often disagree with my assessment of the ecological crises. So, let’s start with points of agreement: We must say no not only to Trump and the reactionary politics of the Republican Party, but no to the tepid liberal/centrist politics of the Democratic Party. And we must push the platform of the social democratic campaigns of folks like Sanders toward deeper critiques of capitalism, First-World imperialism, white supremacy, and patriarchy.
But all of that work will be undermined if we cannot recognize that remaking the world based on principles of care is limited by the biophysical realities on the planet, an ecosphere we have desecrated for so long that some options once available to us are gone, desecration that cannot magically be fixed by a technological fundamentalism that only compounds problems with false promises of salvation through gadgets.
No is not enough. But yes is not enough, either. Our fate lies in the joy and grief of maybe.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully and The End of Patriarchy.
Spotlight on SDG5: Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls
Originally published by
Deliver 2030, 10 July 2017 under a Creative Commons License
As a contribution to the 2017 High-Level Political Forum and the thematic review of SDG 5, UN Women produced a number of infographics to highlight the gaps in gender data across the SDG framework, as well as a brief on the need to mainstream disability into efforts to achieve SDG 5.
Target 5.2: Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation
What does the data say?
Gender equality and women’s empowerment is integral to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This thematic spotlight on SDG 5 is part of a series showcasing where women and girls stand against select SDG targets and was produced in support of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development at UN Headquarters in New York from 10–19 July, 2017.
Making the SDGs count for women and girls with disabilities
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides the global community with an enormous opportunity and the moral obligation to work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for all women and girls, and address the rights and demands of women with disabilities as a matter of priority. In line with several critical areas under thematic review at the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2017, this brief underlines the need to mainstream disability into all efforts to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment (SDG 5).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ben Tritton is a Communications Assistant in the Growth, Poverty and Inequality Programme of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). He was previously a journalist at the BBC News Channel and a local newspaper.
The current occupant of the White House wants to build a “real,” “big,” “serious” wall. To avoid a government shutdown, the administration wavered on the timing of funding. But that does not mean a wall, or walls, will not be built. Walls are material structures, and — maybe more importantly — they are metaphors. They promote ideas like possession, property and separation, as well as mine, yours, who belongs, and who doesn’t belong. They create emotional responses: safety, trust, envy, frustration, fear, anger, dread, hostility. The wall on the border between the United States and Mexico is both material and metaphorical. If you have not looked at pictures of the walls, fences, or barriers already installed on some 650 miles of the 2,000-mile border, you should do so right now. Considerable damage to the environment, the economies of border communities, and individual human lives has already been accomplished by the militarization of the border.
In 1961, the Berlin Wall appeared almost overnight. It was physical and metaphorical, carrying a weighty ideological message to Western “fascists,” who, according to the U.S.S.R. were trying to destroy the socialist state. From the West’s perspective, the purpose of the wall was to deny people access to the West and, importantly, to its message of freedom. All walls carry multiple messages depending on your point of view. The wall on the border with Mexico has different meanings depending on which side of the physical and metaphorical wall you are on. Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions has different ideas about the wall and the people it prevents from entering the United States than do the ranchers and farmers whose land is often divided by a river that does not respect human boundaries.
While construction may be impeded, the idea still exists. It exists as part of an “unconscious system of metaphorical thought,” according to Tom Vanderbilt, in a November New York Times essay about the insidious power of ideas. As a metaphor, the idea of a “wall” is the centerpiece of the new administration’s approach not just to the border, but also to the rest of the world. More barriers along the border could have dire environmental consequences for specific species and the biodiversity of the region. As an environmentalist, I am horrified at this scenario and, yet, I believe that the idea of the wall is as pernicious a consequence of the election as these material impacts.
Everyone is building walls. In Eastern Europe and the Middle East, walls are being built at an exceedingly rapid pace. Vanderbilt cites geographer Elisabeth Vallet’s survey of the 50 actual walls that currently exist, 15 of which were built in the last few years. They are a response to the crisis of immigrant and refugee migration and reflect, as well, the different belief systems — religious and political — that fuel various regional conflicts. A similar surge of nationalist ideology is evident in the United States, too, as “build that wall” became a rallying cry among Donald Trump’s supporters. Those who approve of both kinds of walls exhibit fear and racism. Others believe the myths about job loss or the illusion of physical walls as a solution to a variety of social problems. Nationalism, sometimes labeled populism, has always bubbled under the surface of political discourse in the West, and such rhetoric now has “legs.”
Meanwhile, people who oppose the wall and the immigration policies it represents have also built walls. Articles in Slate, Huffington Post, and elsewhere all carried unforgiving tirades against people who voted for Trump after November 8. This divisive landscape and tendency to build walls represents a crisis for social change activists in engaging a majority of the people to support movements for change.
In the 2001 book “Doing Democracy: The MAP Model of Organizing Social Movements,” veteran social movement activist and trainer Bill Moyer wrote that, “the central task of social movements is to win the hearts, minds and support of the majority of the populace.” After 40-plus years of participating in, planning, training, and analyzing social change and the role of social movements, he stressed the important role of ordinary citizens in successful movements for change. Moyer believed that people would respond to violations of “their deepest values” and that social movements were, in fact, a primary way for people to “challenge unjust social conditions and policies.” As the editor and a co-author of “Doing Democracy,” I too believe that values are at the core of social movements. That is why our political and cultural polarization — that is, the “metaphorical walls” — concerns me and raises questions like: What are these “deepest values?” How do they relate to our “democratic values?” And how many of us share them?
If social movements are to continue to be a “means for ordinary people to act on their deepest values,” as Moyer thought they did, then we need to ask questions about our current culture and the dynamics that are creating more walls than ever before. Are there, in fact, universal values that are widely held today? Numerous authors and many activist groups still cite the Movement Action Plan, or MAP, as a model in understanding the typical stages of social movements on the road to success, the strategies and tactics useful along the way, and the roles that individuals and organizations play in accomplishing movement goals.
Since we completed “Doing Democracy,” I have not encountered any references to the last chapter, titled “Toward the Future.” That chapter encapsulates discussions that Moyer had with many people over the years, and with me during the last several years of his life, about the underlying philosophy of our beliefs and values and knowledge emerging from psychological and sociological research about how we change beliefs and behaviors. Moyer’s analysis of the need for personal and cultural transformation, including the transformation of movement cultures, has not engaged people as much as the “Eight Stages of Social Movements” and “Four Roles of Social Activism” — reflecting, perhaps, an emphasis on strategy and tactics instead of the more personal challenges of being effective change agents by grappling with the philosophical and psychological aspects of social change.
Some will say these considerations sound too individualistic or academic and ask why they are important given the absolutely frightening challenges we face today. In response to this challenge, my colleague Jim Smith and I wrote the forthcoming book “Still Doing Democracy! Finding Common Ground and Acting for the Common Good.” In it, we focus on questions about values, about understanding different beliefs and about how we negotiate the boundaries that different perceptions of the world create so that we can build broader coalitions to support progressive change.
We are once again in an era of large demonstrations that engage the public’s attention. This is good. Some of these events may help groups gain traction in establishing a campaign and building the next movement moment. As longtime organizer and Waging Nonviolence columnist George Lakey has pointed out, protests do not a social movement make. I contend that after the “trigger” events, after the mass demonstrations, and after the first flush of success, such groups will persist in the long struggle to facilitate change only if they are able to engage the “hearts, minds, and support of the majority of the populace.” That is, only if they are able to have a conversation about values and how current conditions violate widely held values. This conversation needs to take place with those with whom you marched, with those who did not march, with those who did not vote (over 42 percent of eligible voters), with those who do not participate in civic life at all, and even with those who voted for the other candidate.
Despite the elation over mass turnouts at recent protests, beginning with the Women’s March, I fear that too little attention is being paid to the more nuanced and disciplined work of listening and learning that’s required to “win the hearts, minds, and support of a majority of the populace.” Unless we are determined to have real conversations — where we are not talking past each other because we are speaking a different language, while using the same words — I believe we will fail.
“Still Doing Democracy!” takes the question of having authentic conversations seriously. Partisans on either side of the progressive/conservative wall use the same language in talking about democratic values. For example, “freedom” is a commonly expressed value that has widely divergent meanings depending on which side of the wall you are on. On one side, being free means to be able to choose to buy or not buy healthcare. On the other side, it means having access to healthcare that you can actually afford to buy. This is not a conversation; there is no common ground here. There is certainly not a shared belief in healthcare as a human right. The belief system and value differences are not only external to the progressive movement world.
Jonathan Matthew Smucker’s analysis of Occupy Wall Street in “Hegemony, How-to: A Roadmap for Radicals,” shows how movement groups create walls that keep them from collaborating with natural allies. I look at the signs at the various marches since January and see a plethora of issues and value statements. But what do these value statements mean? Do people mean the same thing by the words “freedom,” “justice” or “fairness?” Do the people standing next to each other at demonstrations share the vision in “Doing Democracy” of a “civil society in a safe, just and sustainable world?” What kinds of personal and cultural characteristics would describe such a world? These are the questions we need to consider in our groups and in our efforts to engage the “majority of the populace.”
The building blocks of metaphorical walls are the ideas and beliefs that reinforce them. They can be as impenetrable as brick and mortar. Thinking and feeling our way around — through, or over walls — is not always easy, but it is necessary to contribute to real change in a world characterized by diversity of beliefs, perspectives and life experiences.
My approach comes out of a tradition that approaches social problems by asking epistemological questions and analyzes issues through the lens of critical theory. No one needs a degree in philosophy to use these tools — they are everyday skills. Whenever you ask someone where they got a certain idea from, you are asking an epistemological question. What is the source of the information? Is it from the news, their family or the Bible? How firmly do they hold it? Is it an opinion, a belief or, perhaps, “the truth”? As you listen, and this is key, you will learn whether you can have a real conversation. Of course, you must be willing to be similarly transparent, and we must each ask ourselves the same questions. Where do my ideas and beliefs come from? Are they tentative frameworks for making sense of the world, or are they my version of the “truth”?
When you look at social problems through the lens of critical theory you are also asking questions about beliefs. A basic question must be: “Are the people benefitting from this situation, or is some power holder making out like a bandit?” This is the beginning of strategic issue analysis, and it too must include close scrutiny of the stories that substantiate the walls of political belief systems. Our approach brings new insights to the analysis of issues in a social, political and cultural environment that is clearly more complex and fragmented than ever before.
In Lakey’s review of Smucker’s book, he suggests that we have, perhaps, not been bold enough in promoting movement values as the new standard worldview. I suggest that we need to engage in an ongoing conversation about values because we live in a world that has significantly changed since the 1960s, when many of these commitments were first framed as “universal values.” We hope “Still Doing Democracy!” will promote these conversations by helping engaged citizens develop an appreciation of different, disparate, competing or conflicting beliefs and learn how to overcome the barriers they create. We need to add these tools to our list of strategies at every stage and as skills to develop in whatever role we are playing.
We must not build new walls. Instead, we should be echoing an earlier call, “Tear this wall down.”
It has been said that statistics are people with the tears washed away. This is a message that attendees of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund spring meetings in Washington, DC, should bear in mind as they assess progress on global development.
Despite the impressive gains many countries have made, hundreds of millions of people are still being left behind. To highlight this problem, the United Nations Development Program has made social and economic inclusion a major theme of its 2016 Human Development Report, “Human Development for Everyone.” The report offers an in-depth looks at how countries, with support from their partners, can improve development results for all of their citizens, especially the hardest to reach.
Since the UNDP issued its first report in 1990, we have seen significant improvements made in billions of people’s lives worldwide. Back then, around 35% of humanity lived in extreme poverty. Today, that figure stands at less than 11%. Likewise, the proportion of children dying before their fifth birthday has been halved, partly because an additional two billion people now benefit from better sanitation and wider access to clean drinking water.
We should take pride in these achievements; but we must not rest on our laurels. A sizeable number of people are still missing out on these gains. Worse, they are now in danger of being forgotten – literally so. Sometimes, they are not recorded in official statistics at all. And, even when they are, national averages can paint a distorted picture: an increase in average income, for example, might conceal the deepening poverty of some, as it is offset by large gains for a wealthy few.
One of the most profound demographic shifts in recent years has been the massive expansion of a middle class in the global south. The convergence of global incomes has blurred the line between “rich” and “poor” countries. But, at the same time, inequality within many countries has increased. As a result, poverty – in all forms – is a growing problem in many countries, even as the number of people living in poverty worldwide has declined.
Confronting this challenge will require us to rethink fundamentally what development should look like, which is why the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, unlike the previous Millennium Development Goals, apply to all countries – not just the poorer ones.
After decades of making steady development gains, what can we do differently to help the planet’s most disadvantaged people? As the latest Human Development Report makes clear, there is no simple answer. One reason is that those who are being left behind often face disadvantages on several fronts. They are not just short of money; often, they are also sick, uneducated, and disenfranchised.
The problems that affect the world’s most disadvantaged people begin at birth, and worsen during their lifetime. As opportunities to break the cycle are missed, these disadvantages are passed on to subsequent generations, reinforcing their impact.
Still, while today’s development challenges are numerous and complex, they also share common characteristics. Many of the disadvantaged belong to specific demographic groups that tend to fare worse than others in all countries, not least because they face similar economic, legal, political, and cultural barriers.
For example, indigenous peoples constitute just 5% of the global population, but account for 15% of the world’s poor. And, to participate in work and community life, people with disabilities must overcome obstacles that the rest of us often do not even notice. Last but not least, women and girls almost everywhere continue to be underrepresented in leadership and decision-making circles, and they often work more hours for less money than their male counterparts.
Although development policies will continue to focus on tangible outcomes – such as more hospitals, more children in school, and better sanitation – human development must not be reduced only to that which is quantifiable. It is time to pay more attention to the less palpable features of progress, which, while difficult to measure, are not hard to take a measure of.
All people deserve to have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives; but the most marginalized in society are too often denied a say of any kind. Ensuring that those most in need are not forgotten – and that they have the freedom to make their own choices – is just as important as delivering concrete development outcomes.
History has shown us that many of today’s challenges can be overcome in the years ahead. The world has the resources and the knowhow to improve the lives of all people. We just need to empower people to use their own knowledge to shape their futures. If we do that, more inclusive development will be within our reach.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Selim Jahan is Director of the United Nations Human Development Report Office and lead author of the Human Development Report.
China's Tian Shan Mountains Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by the European Space Agency (ESA)
The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) has been working for more than a decade to open access to Earth observation data and information, and increase awareness around their socioeconomic value. As GEO moves into the second decade four new global partners are announced to help support GEO’s vision.
The GEO community has been building a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) that links Earth observation resources worldwide across multiple Societal Benefit Areas (SBAs). These SBAs range from Biodiversity and Ecosystem Sustainability, Disaster Resilience, Energy and Mineral Resources Management, Food Security, Infrastructure and Transportation Management to Public Health Surveillance, Sustainable Urban Development and Water Resources Management. The SBAs serve as lenses through which the Member governments and Participating Organizations (POs) that constitute GEO may focus their contributions to GEOSS, with a goal to make the open EO data resources available for informed decision-making.
The four organizations include Conservation International (CI), Earthmind, Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Each organization has now joined GEO as a Participating Organization, taking the total number to 110 working internationally to advocate, engage and deliver on open EO data.
“CI empowers societies across the globe to sustainably care for nature through science and partnerships. We are excited to join the GEO community, which has long recognized the power of collaboration in leveraging earth observation to benefit humanity.” Said Daniel Juhn, Senior Director, Integrated Assessment and Planning Program at Conservation International. “Though we face obstacles to achieve the SDGs, we are at a critical juncture where the science of valuing ecosystems, and understanding the full services nature provides to people expands our knowledge and options. We hope this partnership exemplifies bringing together that science, the right policies, necessary collaboration, and advanced technologies to generate the solutions we need to tackle global sustainability challenges.”
“Earthmind supports positive efforts by private, public and non-profit stakeholders to conserve and responsibly manage nature. As one of our main programmes is to recognise conservation in the areas where people live and work, we are most honoured and indeed excited to join the GEO community. In so doing, we hope to further encourage voluntary efforts to observe how we managing our planet in order to take better care for it.” said Francis Vorhies, Founder and Executive Director of Earthmind.
“GEO, its Members and the broad new set of tools provided by geodata constitute a fantastic step forward in the quest to help farmers from all corners of the world improve their yields and Governments to improve their policies to further stimulate agriculture in their respective countries. This is why GODAN is very glad to become part of GEO and to count the GEO partnership among the GODAN network. We believe that this collaboration will be most fruitful for all parties involved” said André Laperrière, Executive Director of the GODAN Secretariat.
"UNICEF has learned through experience that problems that go unmeasured often go unsolved,” said Toby Wicks, Data Strategist at UNICEF. “We will work with the GEO community to link the needs of the world's most vulnerable populations to a rapidly expanding set of data informed solutions, including GEOSS. This partnership signals an effort to build a world in which a near real-time understanding of risks and global challenges, particularly water resources management and disaster resilience, allows us to work harder and faster, for children."
The key engagement priorities for GEO in the coming years involve using open Earth observations to respond to a number of global policy issues. The priorities are tied to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These new partnerships will complement existing ones and also help deliver in line with the GEO engagement priorities.
The Group on Earth Observations (GEO)
GEO is a partnership of governments and organizations creating a future wherein decisions and actions for the benefit of humankind are informed by coordinated, comprehensive and sustained Earth observations. GEO Member governments include 104 nations and the European Commission, and 110 Participating Organizations comprised of international bodies making use of or with a mandate in Earth observations. GEO’s primary focus is to develop a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) to enhance the ability of end-users to discover and access Earth observation data and convert it to useable and useful information. GEO is headquartered in Switzerland.
For English-language media enquiries, please contact:
Katherine Anderson – Communications Manager, Group on Earth Observations
7. Sustainable Development Measures and Indicators
Ecological Footprint of Countries: Deficit or Reserve?
The Ecological Footprint Explorer open data platform details consumption and availability of renewable natural resources for more than 200 countries and regions. Source: Global Footprint Network, 13 April 2017
Over the last two centuries, the impact of the Human System has grown dramatically, becoming strongly dominant within the Earth System in many different ways. Consumption, inequality, and population have increased extremely fast, especially since about 1950, threatening to overwhelm the many critical functions and ecosystems of the Earth System. Changes in the Earth System, in turn, have important feedback effects on the Human System, with costly and potentially serious consequences. However, current models do not incorporate these critical feedbacks. We argue that in order to understand the dynamics of either system, Earth System Models must be coupled with Human System Models through bidirectional couplings representing the positive, negative, and delayed feedbacks that exist in the real systems. In particular, key Human System variables, such as demographics, inequality, economic growth, and migration, are not coupled with the Earth System but are instead driven by exogenous estimates, such as UN population projections. This makes current models likely to miss important feedbacks in the real Earth-Human system, especially those that may result in unexpected or counterintuitive outcomes, and thus requiring different policy interventions from current models. The importance and imminence of sustainability challenges, the dominant role of the Human System in the Earth System, and the essential roles the Earth System plays for the Human System, all call for collaboration of natural scientists, social scientists, and engineers in multidisciplinary research and modeling to develop coupled Earth-Human system models for devising effective science-based policies and measures to benefit current and future generations.
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9. Fostering Sustainability in the International Community
Staving Off the Coming Global Collapse
This article was originally published in
The Tyee, 17 July 2017 REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
Too many people consuming too many resources and deepening inequality a prescription for disaster. Tokyo photo by Marco Verch, Creative Commons licensed.
Humans have a virtually unlimited capacity for self-delusion, even when self-preservation is at stake.
The scariest example is the simplistic, growth-oriented, market-based economic thinking that is all but running the world today. Prevailing neoliberal economic models make no useful reference to the dynamics of the ecosystems or social systems with which the economy interacts in the real world.
What truly intelligent species would attempt to fly spaceship Earth, with all its mind-boggling complexity, using the conceptual equivalent of a 1955 Volkswagen Beetle driver’s manual?
Consider economists’ (and therefore society’s) near-universal obsession with continuous economic growth on a finite planet. A recent ringing example is Kaushik Basu’s glowing prediction that “in 50 years, the world economy is likely (though not guaranteed) to be thriving, with global GDP growing by as much as 20 per cent per year, and income and consumption doubling every four years or so.”
Basu is the former chief economist of the World Bank, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and professor of economics at Cornell University, so he is no flake in the economics department. But this does not prevent a display of alarming ignorance of both the power of exponential growth and the state of the ecosphere.
Income and consumption doubling every four years? After just 20 years and five doublings, the economy would be larger by a factor of 32; in 50 years it will have multiplied more than 5000-fold! Basu must inhabit some infinite parallel universe.
In fairness, he does recognize that if the number of cars, airplane journeys and the like double every four years with overall consumption, “we will quickly exceed the planet’s limits.” But here’s the thing — it’s 50 years before Basu’s prediction even takes hold and we’ve already shot past several important planetary boundaries.
Little wonder. Propelled by neoliberal economic thinking and fossil fuels, techno-industrial society consumed more energy and resources during the most recent doubling (the past 35 years or so) than in all previous history. Humanity is now in dangerous ecological overshoot, using even renewable and replenishable resources faster than ecosystems can regenerate and filling waste sinks beyond capacity. (Even climate change is a waste management problem — carbon dioxide is the single greatest waste by weight in all industrial economies.)
Meanwhile, wild nature is in desperate retreat. One example: from less than one per cent at the dawn of agriculture, humans and their domestic animals had ballooned to comprise 97 per cent of the total weight of terrestrial mammals by the year 2000. That number is closer to 98.5 per cent today, with wild mammals barely clinging to the margins.
The “competitive displacement” of other species is an inevitable byproduct of continuous growth on a finite planet. The expansion of humans and their artefacts necessarily means the contraction of everything else. (Politicians’ protests notwithstanding, there is a fundamental contradiction between population/economic growth and protecting the “environment.”)
Ignoring overshoot is dangerously stupid — we are financing growth, in part, by irreversibly liquidating natural resources essential to our own long-term survival.
And things can only get worse. Even at today’s “lacklustre” three-per-cent global growth rate, incomes/consumption would double in just 20 years and produce — in this century — dramatic climate change, widespread extinctions, the collapse of major biophysical systems, global strife and diminished prospects for continued civilized existence.
But even this threat isn’t enough to move the world community to act sensibly to save itself. Like a mind-altering drug, the compound myth of perpetual growth and continuous technological progress obscures reality. Economists thicken the fog by insisting that the economy is “decoupling” from nature — another illusion resulting from faulty accounting, modelling abstractions and the fudging effects of globalization (for example, wealthy countries “offshoring” their ecological impacts onto poorer countries and the global commons).
The biophysical evidence — that is, reality — shows that material consumption and waste production are still increasing with population and GDP growth. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide is accumulating at accelerating record rates in the atmosphere and the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 sequentially shared the distinction of being the warmest years in the instrumental record.
There is little question that the immediate drivers of overshoot are overpopulation and excess consumption, so there is widespread support for the idea of “clean production and consumption.” What only a few realists are willing to state out loud is that this must soon translate into less production/consumption by fewer people.
But this raises another problem. Thirty per cent of the world’s population are still considered to be “very poor” (living on less than $3.10 per day, purchasing power adjusted) and deserve to consume more.
Meanwhile, ours is a world of chronic gross social inequity. Oxfam recently reported that the world’s richest eight billionaires possess the same wealth as the poorest 50 per cent of humanity — more than 3.5 billion people). The richest fifth of people take home about 70 per cent of global income compared to just two per cent by the poorest fifth.
Such inequality deepens the hole we are digging for ourselves. There may be enough of everything to go around, but greater incomes enable the citizens of high-income countries to consume, on average, several times their equitable share of global economic and ecological output. Meanwhile the poor scrounge for crumbs at the bottom of our Earthly barrel. Even within prosperous nations, a widening income gap is known to undermine population health and erode social cohesion, the contemporary United States being an outstanding example.
Our growth-based, winner-takes-all economy has become egregiously unjust as well as ecologically precarious. Perversely, the world community prescribes still greater material growth as the only feasible solution!
How might a clear-sighted neutral observer interpret our predicament? First, she or he would point out that on a finite planet already in overshoot, it is not biophysically possible to raise the material standards of the poor to those of the rich sustainably — that is, without destroying the ecosphere, undermining life-support functions and precipitating global societal collapse. In a non-deluded world, governments would no longer see economic growth as the panacea for all that ails them; in particular, they would acknowledge that enough is literally enough and cease promoting growth as the primary solution to both North-South inequity and chronic poverty within nations.
Instead, a rational world would focus on devising institutions and policies for co-operative redistribution — ways to share the benefits of development more equitably. The goal should be to enhance the material well-being of developing countries and the poor and improve life-quality for all while simultaneously reducing both aggregate material consumption and world population.
Ensuring a socially just, economically secure and ecologically stable global environment requires: a) that rich nations consume less to free up the ecological space needed for justifiable consumption increases in poorer countries; and b) that the world implement a universal population management plan designed to reduce the total human population to a level that that can be supported indefinitely at a more-than-satisfactory average material standard. This is what it means to “live sustainably within the means of nature.”
Fortunately, various studies suggest that planned de-growth toward a quasi steady state economy is technically possible, would benefit the poor and could be achieved while improving overall quality of life even in high-income countries.
Considering the human suffering that would be avoided and number of non-human species that would be preserved, this is also a morally compelling strategy.
The foregoing diagnosis is anathema to the prevailing growth ethic, the naive fallacy that well-being is a continuous linear function of income, and politically correct avoidance of the population question. Many will therefore object on grounds that the suggested policy prescription is politically unfeasible and can never be implemented.
They may well be correct. The problem is that what is politically feasible is likely to be ecologically irrelevant or downright dangerous. Accelerated hydrocarbon development, better pipeline regulations and improved navigational aids for tanker traffic on B.C.’s coast, for example, don’t cut it as sustainable development in a world that should be abandoning fossil fuels.
The data show clearly that we are at a crucial stage of a slow but accelerating crisis. To be effective and timely, sustainability policy should already be consistent with the real-world evidence. Nature can no longer endure the consequences of “alternative facts.”
Failure to implement a global sustainability plan that addresses excess consumption and over-population while ensuring greater social equity may well be fatal to global civilization. Indeed, adherence to any variant of the growth-bound status quo promises a future of uncontrollable climate change, plummeting biodiversity, civil disorder, geopolitical turmoil and resource wars.
In these circumstances, should not elected politicians everywhere have an obligation to explain how their policies reflect the fact of global overshoot?
Denying reality is not a viable option; self-delusion can become all-destroying. If our leaders reject the foregoing framing, they should be required to show how the policies they are pursuing can deliver ecological stability, economic security, social equity and improved population health to future generations. Ordinary citizens should assert their right-to-know as if their lives depend upon it.
It is worth pointing out that B.C.’s recent provincial election campaign and Canada’s 2015 campaign ran with no reference to the key issues outlined here or any explanation of the omission (and the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign was even more other-worldly).