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sustainability

How close to the edge?

Nicola Cenacchi's picture
How close to the edge?
   Photo © iStockphoto.com

In September, a diverse group of scientists—among them the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen—presented in the journal Nature a new framework to analyze sustainable development at a global scale. This framework recognizes that humans have now become the main driver of global environmental change, and that our impact on the planet is growing stronger.

We are affecting every one of the major natural processes which are important for our own welfare, wrecking the ability of earth systems to regulate themselves, and buffer disturbances. In fact, our actions may be shifting earth processes to a completely new state that is a far cry from the extraordinarily stable conditions (in the entire history of planet earth) that allowed the development of human civilization since 10,000 BC. In the words of Paul Crutzen and colleagues, we have entered a new geologic era, the “Anthropocene”.

Our pressure on the planet appears more and more troubling as our understanding of earth processes improves. There is increasing evidence that many earth systems and biophysical phenomena do not change in a linear fashion, but rather experience abrupt changes when thresholds are crossed.

Blueprint for Green Schools

Sophie Bathurst's picture

The author, Sophie Bathurst of Australia, won first place in an international youth essay competition sponsored by the World Bank and other partners. She answered the question "How can you tackle climate change through youth-led solutions?” The awards were announced in Seoul in June, 2009.

Tree protection zone in Bradleys Head, Sydney
   Photo © Sophie Bathurst

My vision for Australia is that of a nation where healthy people live in a healthy environment.  I believe that Australia's future social and economic prosperity as well as the livelihoods of our Pacific Island neighbours depend on our response to the climate challenge. An effective response demands the engagement of all sectors of society and involves both responsible adaptation to existing environmental problems as well as the mitigation of further climate change.

If we ignore the warnings, we will not only damage our precious ecosystems and lose our water resources but will also have to contend with disruption of services; decline in key industries such as agriculture, tourism and fisheries; and increased health problems for society’s most vulnerable, particularly the elderly and remote indigenous communities.

If we think long-term and embrace the challenge, however, climate change can present an opportunity for youth. It can contribute to the establishment of an energy sector based on renewable and clean fuels, the development of world-class research centres and the implementation of globally recognised education programs in sustainability.

Education lies at the core of an initiative that I proposed recently. I envision a series of new projects for primary schools that will be led by a 'Green Taskforce' composed mainly of unemployed youth. The projects are designed to build confidence and to equip young people with some of the skills required for permanent employment in environmental trades. At the same time, these projects will create a culture of ecological awareness and healthy living within primary schools and teach students to reduce their carbon footprint.

United Arab Emirates to become world center for renewable energy

Julia Bucknall's picture
 Photo © Julia Bucknall/World Bank

The Gulf News is reporting that oil-rich United Arab Emirates is among the few developing countries to host a major international organization. Abu Dhabi will be the interim headquarters for the International Renewable Energy Agency, appealingly named IRENA. That fact is remarkable enough, but what is really surprising is that it was chosen over  environmental powerhouses Germany, Austria, and Denmark. 
 
The World Development Report is full of recommendations – transform agricultural subsidies in rich countries, make US$ 50bn a year in additional funding available for adaptation in developing countries – that readers may be tempted to dismiss as politically impossible. Yet political transformations are possible. Ten years ago would anyone have thought that Abu Dhabi could become a leader in sustainable development? The transformation reaches deep. Consultants making recommendations about the UAE's drinking water tell us that reform of the tariff structure is now being considered at the highest levels - not because it would improve water management, but because the efficiency gains predicted would reduce the country's carbon footprint.

Green happiness?

Andrea Liverani's picture

A recent paper by Cohen and Vandenbergh explores the relationship between climate change and consumption by building on emerging work on the determinants of subjective well being. According to an increasing body of 'happiness research',  wealth has decreasing marginal returns, which  means that above certain levels of income, people are willing to trade some of their monetary compensation for more “leisure” and time for themselves. The implications are that public policy should aim at cutting working hours and increase public funding to culture, entertainment and “well being” activities. This would help increase public welfare without increasing consumption, thus helping reduce emissions. In the authors' own words: