21 things they never tell you about poor countries

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This is a necessary set of ideas to think about. I would add something about frugal living in rich countries. This is based on some of the work by Stockholm resilience centre around the issue of nine planetary boundaries.

Emergent Economics

Prompted by Bill Gates’s annual letter and the response from the Overseas Development Institute I thought I’d list some of the things that in my experience seem to be less understood about poor countries. (I wanted to list 23 things like Ha-Joon Chang on capitalism but I couldn’t think of another two). I use the word poor on purpose because although the word risks sounding patronising or dismissive, euphemisms like developing and less-developed can be worse. Thoughts are welcome.

1. Poverty is the rule, not the exception.For most people life just isn’t as good as it is for you and I, the comfortable people from a country rich enough to allow us the literacy, time and Internet access to read blogs written by well-meaning left liberals. Poverty-as-rule-not -exception is difficult to bend our minds around because we tend to base our views about the world on direct experience. If…

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How can politician’s stop climate change?

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I have recently emailed my local MP following a MOOC on Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions. I wanted to know what they were doing about climate change, and I received a letter back giving me information about activities my local MP was doing. If you are interested then you can find them here. http://www.sarahnewton.org.uk/content/renewable-energy
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/sep/18/localism-cornerstone-environmentalism
I do not think this goes far enough. So I am going to write another email. You can find a copy of it below. If you support what I am saying then please leave a comment and I will add to my email that I have blogged this email and have support from others.

[email to my MP]
Thank you for my letter. It was great to hear about the local actions taking place in Falmouth and Cornwall. However, we also need to think globally. What is the government doing to set the scene for a future where we respect our natural resources and live within planetary boundaries?
I ask this question, as I have recently finished a MOOC with the University of Exeter and the lead educator – Tim Lenton put forward these issues in the course. In his final feedback video, he espoused that politicians need to provide a template for the economy and society where we live within the planetary boundaries. You can find this information on Professor Tim Lenton’s blog. http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/climatechangemooc/
Please can you let me know how the Government and the Conservative Party will be meeting the challenge of stopping the stripping of natural resources (e.g. fossil fuels, metals, and water) to create goods and services that increases GDP, which ultimately leads to waste products. These waste products are contributing to climate change, ocean acidification and the increasing likelihood of water scarcity.
I am a concerned citizen of the UK and I want to find a path where we can keep our planet healthy for human beings. Let me know how you can help.
Yours sincerely,

Ms. Caffrey.
[end of email]
Please add a comment if you support or have further questions you want to put forward to our politicians.

Second Enlightenment

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Are we having a second enlightenment? To answer this question, we need to understand what an enlightenment is? Enlightenment is an historical term to define a period in human history. During this period, humans had an ability to understand the depth and breadth of knowledge. This allowed them to have an understanding of a wide range of topics from science to the arts. Moreover this knowledge had academic rigour and was verified through peer review. This allowed for a range of new theories and understandings to emerge.

An example of an enlightenment thinker is Kant. It has been called the ‘age of reason’. Newton developed thinking that governed the world by natural laws. The encyclopaedia was created during this time and was structured to support greater understanding by all that could read. In politics, there was the development of separation of powers and checks and balance.

Now we have the internet. This provides us with access to a breadth of data and information. The portals for information are government departments, research centres (e.g. Metrological Office), think tanks (e.g. New Economics Foundation provide books and pamphlets), online courses (e.g FutureLearn), podcasts (BBC iplayer), online videos (e.g. TedTalks). All these resources provide a range of data and information. How do we as humans turn this in to knowledge and wisdom?

Knowledge comes from putting forward hypothesis and testing these against facts. If the facts disprove the hypothesis then it is wrong. In this scenario, knowledge has not been advanced. In addition, there is a depth of information and data that is required. This starts to require technical language. For example climate change, scientific language is used to analyse data and information. To be a critical thinker in this space you have to understand the language. If you do not then you are excluded. However, once you develop your understanding do you lose your ability to critically assess the data and information? Thus there are challenges with creating knowledge.

The body of knowledge that is accepted by the majority is large. Can we quantify it? I’m not sure. This is because there is still disagreement between scientists. If these disagreements are played out in front of people outside of the field of expertise then this can be disconcerting. People start to question what they should and shouldn’t believe. The two main examples that stand out for me are Climate Change and Creationism. In the case of Creationism, scientists such as Richard Dawkins have spent time writing books such as the God Delusion and setting up websites to put forward the argument against Creationism. Does this mean creationism is knowledge or information?

I believe there is a second enlightenment, as more people can engage in the debate and advance knowledge and wisdom. What will we do with it?

Sustainable living – is its nemesis corporate or individual guilt?

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Human beings are great at guilt, we have created religions to highlight our guilt. The 21st Century guilt is climate change. How responsible am I personally? Do I live in a way that is sustainable? This individual guilt can be debilitating. But is it all me?

I live in a consumer society. I operate within a capitalist economy where my skills and experience is bought and money is given to me. I cannot live on this money, so I go into the consumerist society and buy goods and services that I need. How are these goods and services provided to me? It is a corporate entity that provides the goods and services. How sustainable is the process of creating goods and services for the consumer? One answer comes from the story of stuff. It examines how the consumerist society has been built. It shows how energy and resources are wasted at every stage of the process. Moreover, the majority of the goods and services spend a small amount of time in your home before going out the door as rubbish. So it is not always the individual that should feel guilty.

Do corporates feel guilt?

Yes, sometimes, for example a UK energy company in 2013 was pressurised by a pressure group (ShareAction) to introduce the living wage. This could be seen as acting as a responsible corporate. However, the next day it was found that the energy company had hiked up its prices for consumers. This is what made the news story and politicians got on the band wagon to chastise the energy companies. The UK labour party used it to show the cost of living crisis. However, this did not get to the heart of the matter. The issue with the energy market is to do with the lack of separation between retail and wholesale. There could be issues of a cartel. WAIT, issue of retail and wholesale does this not sound like the issue behind the banking crisis? Does this mean the capitalist economy does not operate fairly? On radio 4’s today programme on 22nd January 2014 they had a representative from Npower. He stated that we needed to recognise that there is energy risk, so what do we need to do about it?

My concern is that corporates need to change and NOW. Organisations like Forum for the Future are working with corporates to help them change. But still more needs to be done. There is a Swedish research organisation (Stockholm Resilience Centre) that has recognised that there are nine limiting factors on the world. We have already breached three of them. This is the crisis. It has been put forward there is a new paradigm. My concern is the consumerist society lives well, people buy stuff for instant gratification without thinking of the consequences. Corporates continue to produce stuff in our capitalist economy. To what end? To generate more profit and larger GDP to satisfy the human need to accumulate more. This is done through spending money on marketing AND NOT on design to ensure products and services fit in with the product life cycle. Why?

On an individual level, I am looking in to creating a zero waste home. Where I think about what I bring in to the house. I re-think how I buy food so that it is not over packaged. I look at how I clean my house so I do not use too many chemicals. I think about how I travel and start with walking and cycling, then public transport, and finally fossil fuel travel – car and plane. I am working on increasing the amount of rubbish that is rottable. I put vegetable waste in to a wormery. At the moment, I am thinking about water usage as this is a limiting factor. I am also putting pressure on corporates where I can to remind them of their need to think about design rather than marketing.

What are you doing for your children, grand-children and future generations? What are you doing to keep this blue planet, blue?

Climate change: greenhouse v. blanket?

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A new theory has emerged. It is in climate systems. This area of science analyses the interaction between natural resources such as mountains, oceans, ice sheets, clouds and man-made resources such as factories, agriculture, and roads. The new theory is that the earth is covered by a blanket of gases. These gases keep the climate within certain set of parameters. These parameters allow earth to continue operating as an ecosystem. However, why the change? Previously, the greenhouse effect was used in a similar way to understand changes in our climate. To understand the differences, I need to provide some of the science.

Earth has a symbiotic relationship with the sun. It is our energy source and it provides heat and light waves. There are two theories about the system of how climate is maintained on earth. Climate is the trends of average weather in an area. The two theories are greenhouse effect and the blanket gases. These gases interact with the five spaces on earth – hydrosphere (e.g. oceans), biosphere (e.g. forests), atmosphere (space between planet and the ozone in the stratosphere), cyrosphere (e.g. glaciers), lithosphere (earth’s crust). For example the way the gases interact is through the water cycle, where there is evaporation from oceans, transpiration from plants, cloud formation, precipitation (rain etc.) and the water table. These systems interact with the spaces to provide our climate.

Scientist agree heat waves enter the earth’s atmosphere and are immediately effected by gases. However, there is disagreement about what happens to these gases once they enter the earth’s atmosphere. The old theory of the greenhouse effect put forward that the heat entered the earth’s atmosphere and got trapped. This was the explanation for global warming. A new theory disagreed with this theory, instead the analogy used was a blanket.

In the blanket theory, gases (e.g. water vapour or ozone) reflect the heat waves directly back out of the earth’s atmosphere. Other heat waves are able to get through to the earth’s surface. The effect of the heat waves on the earth is dependent on where the waves hit the earth. The two major areas are the oceans or ice.  If heat waves hit our oceans then the heat is absorbed, whereas if heat waves hit ice the heat wave is reflected (albedo effect). This is an example of one of the feedback loops within the climate system. It is a highly complex system with numerous components that interact in a variety of ways.

The planet’s climate is maintained by gases (water vapour, methane and ozone and nitrous oxide). The analogy used is a blanket around the earth. For example, water vapour, that we see as clouds, reflects heat. The blanket is  the gases that regulate the temperature to 15 degrees. The regulation takes place by how sunlight is reflected. Scientist measure the reflection of sunlight by albedo. If there is 30% reflection then there is 0.3 albedo. Different parts of the earth’s surface have different albedo. Ice reflects a lot of heat and has a high albedo, whereas water has a low albedo, as it absorbs a lot of heat. The hydrological cycle is viewed as playing an important role in moving heat around the Earth.

The earth reflects 30% of sunlight. Therefore it has an albedo of 0.3. If the earth only absorbed 70% of sunlight then the temperature would be -18 degrees Celsius. However, the blanket gases mean it is 15 degrees. How far can we go with this analogy?

In summary, there are four key scientific principles – albedo effect, climate systems, feedback loops, new theory of the blanket effect. I am able to bring you this blog thanks to Professor Lenton, the University of Exeter and Future Learn who have put on a free course called Climate change: challenges and solutions. If you are interested then I suggest taking a look.

Climate is what you affect, weather is what gets you!’

Corporate greed: Lessons from Victorian industrialist and philanthropist.

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In today’s world, corporates appear to be omnipotent. They control supply chains; large numbers of employees; prices of products and services? More worryingly, there does not seem to be a check on their power. I have two major questions. Where does their power come from? And why do they have power?

To list some reasons for their power that are obvious to me:
• Size – in terms of number of employees, number of offices across different geo-political countries
• Culture – there is corporatism where people on the inside protect each other
• Like minded individuals – people who go in to corporate life want to create wealth and wealth creation is recompensed with bonuses and shares.

The millions of people across the world are stuck in this bubble of wanting to create more wealth being paid more money and given shares that continue to give you money. Even in retirement, you depend on the share price to keep your standard of living comparable to when you were working. Is this right?

During Victorian England, there were many men (let me know if there were any women) who built factories and businesses on the enslaved labour of other men. For example mining, industrialists choose to exploit men and did not value human life. Why? Human life was not valued, as industrialists valued ‘money’ (a human construct) more than human life? The answers to these questions scare me.

There are some industrialists that were also philanthropist. One that stands out for me is Cadbury’s. They created homes, communities, safe working environments as part of setting up their chocolate factories. On radio 4, there was a radio programme with the industrialist and factory worker at the Cadbury’s factory in Birmingham. There was a friendship between these two individuals, which was based on respect. It does not appear that either was being exploited. Why was there this difference in industrialists?

What is the 21st Century equivalent? For me, it is Triodos Bank. Employers are called co-workers and people enjoy their work. Triodos bank has an ethos to take sustainability in to account when they choose where they invest. In addition they engage with other banks and challenge them to be more responsible. They do this through being part of a group – the global alliance of banking on values http://www.gabv.org/ . They inform savers and investors on how their money is spent and invested. They take criticism through feedback, and at AGMs. How can other corporates learn from them? I suggest by looking at their own supply chain and reviewing the sustainability argument. I think the most important point is accepting that you can be wrong.

More worryingly, where does corporates power come from? Now we need to take responsibility, as it comes from us. It is our consuming, investing and saving. If you do any of these activities and I am sure you do then you need to be more thoughtful. I do my best.

From a consumer perspective, I list things I need to purchase and I think about if I really need it. If I do and it is a big purchase, then I do research and think about the different impacts of buying that product. By not doing impulse purchasing, you are limiting your consumption. In addition, you can ask the retailer about their supply chains.

On saving, you have spare cash then I would suggest looking in to banks like Triodos and Charity Bank or getting involved in your local credit union. Your money does make a difference. It can be used for social good. This is a good website to help your thinking http://www.yourethicalmoney.org/

On investing, you probably don’t think you are an investor. BUT most people are through their pension funds. You can influence corporates through your pension fund. For more information on this try share action http://www.shareaction.org/ .

So from my perspective, we have to change. Look at this film on the story of stuff http://storyofstuff.org/movies/ . How are you contributing to this change?
Do share if you have other ways of dealing with this issue of greed?