Time Running out to Ensure Sustainable Prosperity for All
Over the last 50 years, the world’s middle and upper classes have more than doubled their consumption levels, and an additional 1 to 2 billion people globally aspire to join the consumer class. The planet cannot maintain such increases in resource demand without serious consequences for both people and ecosystems, concludes the Worldwatch Institute in State of the World 2012: Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity. The book, the 29th in a series that Worldwatch began in 1984, stresses that we must act quickly to redefine our understanding of the “good life” and redouble our efforts to make that life sustainable.
“The Industrial Revolution gave birth to an economic growth model rooted in structures, behaviors and activities that are patently unsustainable,” says Worldwatch Senior Researcher Michael Renner, co-director of State of the World 2012. “Mounting ecosystem stress and resource pressures are accompanied by increased economic volatility, growing inequality and social vulnerability. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the economy no longer works for either people or the planet.”
Instead, we need to reprioritize basic needs and pursue true sustainable prosperity—development that allows all human beings to live with their fundamental needs met, with their dignity acknowledged, and with abundant opportunity to pursue lives of satisfaction and happiness, all without risk of denying others in the present and the future the ability to do the same. This, in turn, means not just preventing further degradation of Earth’s systems, but actively restoring them to full health.
With the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June, this is the year to catalyze a move toward sustainable prosperity. The gathering, more commonly known as Rio+20 for its commemoration of the anniversary of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, offers a chance to set the course for an economic system that promotes the health of both people and ecosystems. The themes for Rio+20 are: 1) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and 2) an institutional framework for sustainable development.
“We are cautiously optimistic about the upcoming Rio conference,” says Erik Assadourian, a senior fellow at Worldwatch and co-director of State of the World 2012. “But minor shifts in policy and technology will not be enough to save humanity. Rio+20 participants should re-consider the vision that guides their deliberations. If we do not radically change our consumer culture and collectively re-prioritize sustainable living, we will be the agents of our own undoing.”
The aspirations of the original 1992 meeting in Rio collided with a set of painfully sobering developments, including unfriendly politics, orthodox economics and a dominant culture of consumerism. The 20 years since then have made it clear that necessary change is not merely technical, but encompasses changes in lifestyle, culture and politics.
The report’s 35 contributors describe many of the currently untenable social and economic patterns and explore opportunities for creative alternatives on sustainability topics ranging from agriculture, communication technologies and biodiversity to “green” construction, local politics and global governance. Specific topics include:
- A Green Economy that Works for Everyone: For industrial, emerging and developing countries, a green economy will mean different things. But they have in common the need to create green jobs that offer a decent living, and they all can benefit from policy innovations such as a network of cooperative green innovation centers, a standard-setting global “top runner” program, green financing and skills training, and greater economic democracy.
- Degrowth in Overdeveloped Countries: Humanity uses 1.5 Earths’ worth of ecological capacity, with much of that consumed by overdeveloped industrial countries. Sustainable prosperity will require economic degrowth in these countries. This can be achieved by a mix of tax shifting, shortening work weeks, denormalizing certain types of consumption, and de-marketizing certain sectors of the economy, such as food production and child care.
- Inclusive and Sustainable Urban Development: Urban poverty is pervasive, and absolute numbers are expanding in both the developed and developing worlds: some 828 million people live in slums worldwide. Urban planning needs to include strategies such as explicit and transparent spatial plans, democratic engagement of the poor and community-based organizations, and coordination across sectors, especially affordable housing, transportation, and economic development.
- Sustainable Transportation: Today there are nearly 800 million cars on the world’s roads, and in the developing world transportation is the source of up to 80 percent of harmful air pollutants. A sustainable and socially progressive alternative requires a shift toward denser cities that generally require less motorized travel, invest in high-quality transit, and support vibrant, healthy communities by enabling walking and cycling.
- Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs): More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and 90 percent of urbanization is occurring in the developing world. ICTs can help cities become safer, cleaner and more sustainable places to live, but they are currently underutilized in both the developed and developing worlds. Reversing this trend must go beyond the current public-private partnerships and “smart cities” projects by providing broad public access to data and boosting public involvement.
- Measuring Sustainable Urban Development: Since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, there has been limited progress in developing a universal sustainability indicator system that is scientifically valid and credible. This has been true in the U.S. as well, but efforts are under way to develop a database of indicators that will inform discussions at Rio+20 about how to measure urban sustainability.
- Reinventing the Corporation: Transnational corporations (TNCs) have evolved over the past five centuries into globally influential entities. They often go unchecked, with no limits placed on their impacts on society, the environment or the economy. TNCs must adapt if sustainability is to become a reality, including shifts in their purpose, ownership, capital investment and governance.
- The Global Architecture of Sustainable Governance: Sustainability efforts worldwide will be shaped by the reforms being discussed for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). If UNEP is going to play a valuable and productive role in these efforts, it must enjoy increased authority and financial resources, but above all it must be better connected to other international agencies so it can play the coordinating and visionary role its founders had in mind.
- Population Growth Strategies: In 2011, global population passed the 7 billion mark, and confronting population growth is critical to the future sustainability of the planet. Over time, population growth will end and reverse with no need for “population control” through assuring reproductive health and rights for all, adequate education for girls and boys, and equal economic activity for both sexes with internalization of the environmental costs of economic activity.
- Sustainable Buildings: The construction and operation of buildings use 25–40 percent of all produced energy, accounting for a comparable share of global carbon dioxide emissions. We must aim for the goals of net zero energy use, zero emissions and zero waste if new construction and existing buildings are going to be sustainable.
- Public Policy and Sustainable Consumption: Combating the rise of consumerism will require government involvement, including advertisement management, tax modification to include the true cost of a product or service, and the establishment of sustainability certification programs.
- Mobilizing the Business Community: Our current economic model does not consider planetary limits, is socially exclusive and places private interests above public ones. A recipe for a successful 21st-century economy needs to be green, inclusive and responsible, which will take a combination of business-led voluntary initiatives reinforced by new corporate structures and strong government policy and public oversight.
- Sustainable Agriculture: Almost 2 billion people are fed by produce from the 500 million small farms in developing countries. Yet these small-scale producers are some of the most food-insecure people: 80 percent of the world’s hungry live in rural areas. To optimize the productivity and environmental sustainability of small farms, future agricultural policy must combine a rights-based approach with legislation that is localized and culturally specific.
- Food Security and Equity: In recent decades, factory farming has increased meat, egg, and dairy consumption worldwide, particularly in the developing world. But this industrial meat production system has been harmful to human health and the environment. The internalization of costs, restoration of ecosystems, and education of the public—among other strategies—can help create a new food system that is more efficient, equitable and climate-compatible.
- Biodiversity: The rate at which species are becoming extinct is estimated to be up to 1,000 times higher today than in pre-industrial times. Efforts such as the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services are needed to better understand and reverse the erosion of nature’s resiliency.
- Valuation of Ecosystem Services: The human ecological footprint has grown so large that progress is now constrained more by limits on natural resources and ecosystem services than by limits on infrastructure or technology. Ecosystem services help evaluate the benefits derived from ecosystems by assigning a monetary or physical unit to those benefits, which can in turn help to better facilitate natural resource management.
- Local Governance: Decisions at the local level can be the greatest catalysts for progress because they contribute directly to poverty reduction, job growth, gender equity and environmental protection. As a result, the development of local democratic procedures that are transparent and reliable is critical to global sustainable development.
“There won’t be much point in revisiting the Rio+20 conference in another 20 years to try to figure out what went wrong,” says Worldwatch President Robert Engelman. “We know enough right now about the state of the world to see clearly that we have to change the way we live and the way we do business. Working out new paths towards true sustainability will take much more than a conference of governments, though such a gathering can help. The task begins with the recognition that perpetual economic and demographic growth aren’t possible on a finite planet. We can work with the hope that ecological stability is possible, along with a good life based on health, literacy, strong communities and access to ‘enough’ rather than ever more.”
The State of the World 2012 report is accompanied by other informational materials including policy briefs, videos and a discussion guide, all of which are available by clicking here. The project’s findings are being disseminated to a wide range of stakeholders, including government ministries, Rio+20 participants, community networks, business leaders and the nongovernmental environmental and development communities.
For more information, click here.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Between 2000 and 2013, Earth lost an area of undisturbed ecosystems roughly the size of Mexico.
- Planting Projects, Backyard Habitats Can Re-Create Livable Natural ... ›
- Humans Are Destroying Wildlife at an Unprecedented Rate, New ... ›
- UN Biodiversity Chief: Humans Risk Living in an 'Empty World' With ... ›
- Scientists Warn Worse Pandemics Are on the Way if We Don't ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
- The Vicious Climate-Wildfire Cycle - EcoWatch ›
- How Climate Change Ignites Wildfires From California to South Africa ›
- 31 Dead, 250,000 Evacuated in California Fires as Governor ... ›
World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
If you are taking medication for an underactive thyroid, check your prescription.