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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Workshop 2-4 November 2017 -- Over the last three years, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS) and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (PASS) have held a series of meetings related to the degradation of the environment, climate change, extinction and sustainable development and have briefed the Holy Father Pope Francis about the outcome of some of these meetings. The meetings typically include scientists, policy makers, philosophers and theologians and at times, world leaders. At one such meeting held in 2015, the attendees arrived at the following conclusion:
"This century is on course to witness unprecedented environmental changes. In particular, the projected climate changes or, more appropriately, climate disruptions, when coupled with ongoing massive species extinctions and the destruction of ecosystems, will doubtless leave their indelible marks on both humanity and nature. As early as 2100, there will be a non-negligible probability of irreversible and catastrophic climate impacts that may last over thousands of years, raising the existential question of whether civilization as we know it can be extended beyond this century. Only a radical change in our attitude towards Creation and towards our fellow humans, complemented by transformative technological innovations, could reverse the dangerous trends that have already been set into motion inadvertently.” Dasgupta, Ramanathan, Raven, Sánchez Sorondo, Arber, et al., 29 April 2015
Comprehensive as these meetings were, they did not fully factor in the adverse public health effects of air pollution and climate change. Reliance on fossil fuels and burning of solid biomass are the major, if not the dominant, sources of air pollution and climate change. Scientific studies related to health effects of air pollution date back to at least the 1950s and there is now an immense body of evidence on how air pollution harms health. However, the health consequences of climate change, both direct and indirect, have not received much attention until recently. Thanks to two recent international efforts, one by the World Health Organization and another from the LANCET commission, climate effects are beginning to receive the sort of attention they deserve, particularly since, both studies concluded:
It is now time for a more holistic meeting at the Vatican that documents the interconnections between fossil fuel use, the pollution of the atmosphere and the oceans, climate change, public health, the health of ecosystems and sustainability. The central focus will be on the health of the people and the health of the ecosystems and their interdependence between ecosystems and people. It is likely such a focus on people’s health may very well bring people and political leaders to push for more drastic actions to limit air pollution and climate change below dangerous levels now being reached and to implement policies to protect Earth’s essential life support systems.
Scope of the proposed meeting:
Burning of coal, oil, gas and solid biomass for energy access has become a major threat to the health of humanity. It also poses a major threat to the natural systems which sustain all life. Unsustainable demands for energy and wasteful utilization of natural resources affect health in a myriad of ways:
Air pollution from burning fossil and solid biomass contributes to around 7 million premature deaths a year, mostly from ischemic heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and chronic obstructive airways disease in adults and acute lower respiratory illness in children. Globally, 88% of the world’s population breathes air that does not meet WHO’s air quality guidelines. Air pollution also destroys over 100 million tons of crops each year. Damages to human health and to the environment by air pollution are already valued at trillions of dollars (USD) per year.
Climate change caused by fossil fuel burning leads to increased risks of extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, fires, severe storms, floods which in turn have major health effects. For example: a single heat wave event, which occurred in Europe in 2003, claimed 70000 lives; 250,000 excess deaths were attributed to droughts and famines during 2011-2012 in the horn of Africa. Tropical storm Haiyan claimed more than 7800 lives in the Philippines; heat waves in Pakistan and India lost at least 4000 people to the 2015 heat wave. While we cannot claim these extreme events were caused by anthropogenic climate changes, we know that the probability of exposure to extreme events is increasing significantly due to climate change. These extreme events affect the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. Climate change also affects the spread of disease vectors, food insecurity, under-nutrition, mental health, displacement and migration. By end of century projections suggest that as a result of climate change together with population growth and demographic change there could be (Lancet Commission, 2015): 3 billion additional annual heat exposure events for elderly people; 1.4 billion additional annual person drought exposure events; 2 billion additional annual extreme rainfall exposure events.
Climate change is occurring against a background of other far reaching environmental changes including freshwater depletion, land use change and soil degradation. We depend entirely on the living world (biodiversity) for our survival: they collectively make up the ecosystems into which we evolved and which make our life possible. We obtain all of our food from plants, yet only about 100 of the estimated 460,000 species supply 90% of what we eat, directly or indirectly. Two- thirds of the people in the world depend on plants for their medicine, and, for the rest of us, about a quarter of our medicines come from or came from plants. About one fifth of all species of organisms are estimated to be in danger of extinction now, but with current trends, half of all species could become extinct during the remainder of this century, 83 years. It is estimated that 12 million species of organisms exist, except for bacteria, but we have found and named only a out two million of them, and know next to nothing about the vast majority of even those we have named.
Ocean acidification and deoxygenation resulting from fossil fuel combustion and resulting climate change have major consequences to coral reefs, fisheries and aquaculture, which provide nutrients to about 4 billion people. The acidity of the ocean has already increased by 30% due to increase in atmospheric CO2; with unchecked emissions of CO2, it can increase by 100% by 2100. Oxygen loss in the open and coastal oceans, called as de-oxygenation, is being observed and is largely due to ocean warming.
All of these environmental effects will contribute to global inequality since the poorest three billion are still depending on 18th century technologies for meeting basic needs such as cooking; and as a result are the most exposed to pollution. They will also be particularly vulnerable to climate change since they lack adequate coping systems such as health care, insurance or savings to deal with catastrophic events such as loss of home due to floods, loss of livelihood due to droughts, sea level rise and fires etc. Their ability to undertake physical labor will be reduced by increasing heat stress. Women and children are the worst affected. Climate change is projected to be responsible for additional 20 to 25 million under nourished children. UNICEF warned that climate change poses the greatest threat to children and their children. The meeting must discuss social justice and ethical issues as urged by Pope Francis in the encyclical Laudato Si':
"We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor".
We are assembling a meeting of global thought leaders in all these areas, with emphasis on human health to consider the latest evidence and make recommendations to be submitted directly to Pope Francis and other world leaders for further actions. Experts spanning medicine, public health, air pollution, marine pollution, climate change, food and water security, ecology, species extinction, renewable energy, and policy should be included. The first two days will be devoted to a detailed assessment of the health of people and the ecosystem. We will document and diagnose the health impacts of fossil fuel combustion and the resulting climate change. The final day of the meeting will be devoted to seeking solutions and will end with a call for actions by policy makers and political leaders.
- Promoting the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences, and the study of related epistemological questions and issues
– Recognising excellence in science
– Stimulating an interdisciplinary approach to scientific knowledge
– Encouraging international interaction
– Furthering participation in the benefits of science and technology by the greatest number of people and peoples
– Promoting education and the public’s understanding of science
– Ensuring that science works to advance of the human and moral dimension of man
– Achieving a role for science which involves the promotion of justice, development, solidarity, peace, and the resolution of conflict
– Fostering interaction between faith and reason and encouraging dialogue between science and spiritual, cultural, philosophical and religious values
– Providing authoritative advice on scientific and technological matters
– Cooperating with the members of other Academies in a friendly spirit to promote such objectives.