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On rhino horns, banking nature and climate hope

Muthukumara Mani's picture
It is not often that as an economist, you find yourself surrounded by creative artists! I found myself in such a situation recently when I was invited to be a panelist for the Dominican Republic Environmental Film Festival. It presented me with an opportunity to witness firsthand how the issues of environment and climate change are perceived and interpreted in the community of artists and filmmakers.

The festival criteria read that “by screening a diverse selection of high quality films that deal with pressing issues, and by organizing discussion panels with environmental experts, filmmakers and other stakeholders, the Festival seeks to promote dialogue and inspire Dominican viewers to adopt practices that will ensure the country’s environmental sustainability and health.” For a small Caribbean nation to take these issues seriously and attempt to educate its people using cinema was indeed commendable.
Gambling on Extinction, directed by Jakob Kneser

What I witnessed on landing in Santo Domingo was truly remarkable. There were filmmakers from all over the world, but also organizers of similar festivals from other countries. That is when I realized that environmental film festivals have now become a global movement with the intention of informing, influencing, and galvanizing people on critical environmental issues. While the first “environmental” films were produced back in the 1960s when the global environmental movement was in its infancy, there are now 30 or more international environmental film festivals held all over the world attracting hundreds of films and thousands of people. They cover issues such as clean water, sanitation, forests, biodiversity, sustainable consumption and climate change. Even more remarkable, most of these short films or documentaries are often produced on a shoe-string budget, but with an enormous degree of passion and perseverance to get the message across.  What really impressed me was that although they dealt with critical issues facing us today, in most cases the messages were of hope and optimism!

I want to share with you some of the films that I watched:

Human wellbeing depends on a functioning planet—the Pope’s call

Paula Caballero's picture
Children in Bhutan look out on terraced fields. (Photo by Curt Carnemark / World Bank)The papal encyclical “on care for our common home” reflects the kind of insightful and decisive leadership that will be needed to reverse trends that will affect humanity’s capacity to feed itself and provide for collective well-being. The encyclical is not only a sobering call to address climate change, but also a manifesto for environmental stewardship and action. It touches on topics that we, as earth’s dominant species, need to urgently care about if we are to keep millions out of poverty today and tomorrow, and deliver on the rising expectations of a global middle class.

At the core of the encyclical is both a concern for the health of the planet and for the earth’s poor, reflected in a commitment to social values and integrity, environmental resilience, and economic inclusion.

The stock-taking begins, aptly, with pollution: “Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths.” The World Bank’s latest edition of the Little Green Data Book finds indeed that in low and middle-income countries, 86% of the residents are exposed to air pollution levels (measured in exposure particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter) that exceed World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. The WHO last year made headlines when it calculated that 7 million people had died prematurely from indoor and outdoor air pollution in 2012. From safer cookstoves in rural areas, to better air quality management in fast growing cities, this is an area where solutions are known and must be urgently applied.

Five reasons to act now to #endpollution

Paula Caballero's picture
Did you know that about 3.7 million people worldwide died in 2012 from diseases related to ambient air pollution? That is nearly the population of the city of Los Angeles expiring every year from preventable causes.

When you combine death-by-smog with deaths related to exposure to dirty indoor air, contaminated land and unsafe water, the grand total of deaths from all pollution sources climbs to almost 9 million deaths each year worldwide. That’s more than 1 in 7 deaths and makes pollution deadlier than malnutrition.
Photo via Shutterstock

This fact deserves to be better known, as there are ready solutions. Inaction is not an option.


Food Safety in China: Addressing Common Problems Requires Unusual Approaches

Artavazd Hakobyan's picture

Over the past three decades, China has successfully lifted more than 500 million people out of poverty. For many years, the government’s poverty alleviation strategy focused on ensuring that every person had access to enough food. Driven by rapid economic development and urbanization, China is today one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of agricultural products.

Now the Chinese government has turned its attention to making the country’s food supply safer. The issue has become so important that, in the words of President Xi Jinping: “Whether we can provide a satisfying solution on food safety to the people is an important test on our capacity of governance.”

According to a poll published in March 2015, more than 77 percent of respondents ranked food safety as the most important quality of life issue. Environmental pollution, which experts consider one of the causes of China’s food safety problems, was another top issue worrying the public.

Chinese people attach significant importance to food, beyond its nutritional characteristics, due to historic memories of starvation. Food is also a symbol of regional pride and distinction, as well as a reflection of respect to guests.
Traditionally Chinese people believe each type of food brings specific medicinal features. Ginger cures a cold, garlic stops diarrhea, spinach is good for the blood, walnuts are good for the brain, pear relieves a cough, etc. When in China, you cannot avoid stories on how adding a specific food to one’s diet helped cure some disease. Therefore, it is understandable why Chinese people attach such importance to food safety. Contaminated or unsafe food poses a threat to public health and also risks undermining social stability and cultural identity.

The root causes China’s food safety problems come from the country’s rapid development. China has experienced unprecedented growth in recent decades and now is the world’s second-largest economy. Such rapid expansion has unleashed positive and negative effects. The industrial boom coupled with urban expansion and infrastructure development put significant pressure on both land and water resources. Over the long term, that pressure could constrain the ability to produce more food.

Snowmelt, climate change and urban pollution—new perspectives

Tracy Hart's picture
Image by U.S. National Climate Assessment via Washington PostIt's been a snowy winter—not only here in Washington D.C., but also in places I travel, namely Jerusalem and Amman. The past week, the snowmelt runoff into Rock Creek in D.C. has been a sight to watch. It's also been a teachable moment for my daughter: we've talked about how snowmelt contributes to surface water flows.

Actually I talk, and she goes "okay, okay" looking out the window.

She and I have learned a few new facts to share: one is the linkage of irregular precipitation associated with global climate change.

Chris Mooney, the environment and climate change writer for the Washington Post, recently wrote a great article explaining why more snow is another result of climate change. D.C. is on the south border of the NE of the United States, where, as you can see from the map, (provided by the US National Climate Assessment), extreme rain/snow events have increased dramatically. Similarly, in Jerusalem three weeks ago, the snow came with sleet, blueberry-size hailstones (see below) and lightning.

#BestOf2014: Six Popular Environmental Stories You Shouldn’t Miss

Andy Shuai Liu's picture
As we get ready to kick off the new year, let’s recount the voices and stories about how we can enhance the way we interact with our planet. From Ethiopia to Indonesia, we’ve seen our efforts improve lives and help incomes grow as countries and communities strive for greener landscapes, healthier oceans and cleaner air.
Take a look back at some of the most popular stories you may have missed in 2014:
1. Raising More Fish to Meet Rising DemandPhoto by Nathan Jones via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Aquaculture is on the rise to help feed a growing population. New #Fish2030 report:

— World Bank (@WorldBank) February 6, 2014

Remembering Bhopal 30 Years Later

Adriana Jordanova Damianova's picture
Children stand near the dilapidated premises of Union Carbide in Bhopal, India. (Photo via Bhopal Medical Appeal / Flickr CC)Thirty years ago, toxic gas leaking from Union Carbide’s factory in Bhopal claimed more than 5,000 lives and exposed more than half a million people to harmful toxins.  The negligence and human tragedy made Bhopal synonymous with industrial disaster and showed just how harmful chemical pollution is to health and well-being. The enormous human loss calls for remembering the victims and stronger engagement on a wide range of pollution management and environmental health issues to prevent similar tragedies.

What Happened Then?
A chemical gas spilled from a pesticide factory owned by Union Carbide. More than 40 tons of gas created a dense cloud over more than half a million people and killed thousands.  None of the six safety systems at the plant worked to prevent the disaster. The company’s own documents prove the plant was designed with “untested” technology, and that it cut corners on safety and maintenance in order to save money.

The State of Bhopal Today
Today, clean-up of the site is still pending, those who survived the disaster don’t have alternate livelihood opportunities and victims are still suffering.

Campaign Art: Nature Is Speaking

Roxanne Bauer's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

“Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.” The message is blunt and ominous. The imagery is beautiful. It’s is the new campaign from Conservative International, Nature Is Speaking, which introduces the idea that it's in our own enlightened self interest as humans to take care of the environment because we need it to survive. 

The campaign rebrands the conservation movement from one that discusses the environment as fragile and separate from humans to a force that is wholly inseparable from the future of mankind.

It contains seven short films in which Nature is personified by celebrities, including Penélope Cruz, Harrison Ford, Edward Norton, Robert Redford, Julia Roberts, Ian Somerhalder and Kevin Spacey who all give voice to a different element of the environment.

In the following video Julia Roberts gives Mother Nature a voice: "I've been here for aeons. I have fed species greater than you, and I have starved species greater than you,” she warns. “My oceans. My soil. My flowing streams. My forests. They all can take you. Or leave you.”
Nature Is Speaking – Julia Roberts is Mother Nature

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Facebook’s Gateway Drug
The New York Times
SILICON VALLEY was once content to dominate the tech world. But recently, its leading companies have ventured deep into areas well outside its traditional bailiwick, most notably international development — promising to transform a field once dominated by national governments and international institutions into a permanent playground of hackathons and app-fueled disruption.  To observe this venture humanitarianism in action, look no further than, a coalition of Facebook, Samsung and several other large tech companies that promises to bring low-cost Internet access to people in underserviced parts of the world, via smartphones. 

New World Order, Labor, Capital, and Ideas in the Power Law Economy
Foreign Affairs
Recent advances in technology have created an increasingly unified global marketplace for labor and capital. The ability of both to flow to their highest-value uses, regardless of their location, is equalizing their prices across the globe. In recent years, this broad factor-price equalization has benefited nations with abundant low-cost labor and those with access to cheap capital. Some have argued that the current era of rapid technological progress serves labor, and some have argued that it serves capital. What both camps have slighted is the fact that technology is not only integrating existing sources of labor and capital but also creating new ones.

Do the IPCC Report Messages on Transport Provide a Strong Rationale for Action?

Andreas Kopp's picture

 Miso Lisanin/World Bank

In April, the preeminent scientific body known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the contribution of Working Group III to the 5th Assessment Report on climate change with a focus on climate change mitigation, including transport and other sectoral policies. What is new for transport since the 4th Assessment Report was released seven years ago? 
Quite a bit, it turns out. The 4th IPCC report strongly focused on fuel and vehicle technology substitution. Deep cuts in emissions would mainly be brought about by a switch from gasoline to biofuels and fuel cell cars. The 5th report’s messages are different and more in tune with the growing consensus around the need for new mobility patterns and a change in transport user behaviors: “When developing low-carbon transport systems, behavioral change and infrastructure investments are often as important as developing more efficient vehicle technologies and using low-carbon fuels,” say the authors of chapter 8 on transport. This is progress in my view, and the emphasis on different modes of transport (besides individual cars) is very much in line with the recent World Bank flagship report Turning the Right Corner
But how do we get there?