Category Archives: environment FX

Towards an Empathetic Civilization

In this thoughtful RSA presentation professor Jeremy Rifkin talks about what ultimately motivates human beings from the moment they are born. Contrary to previous visions of society and humanity, he dispels the view that newborns are first and foremost motivated by utilitarian desires, the will to survive and the need to extinguish their libido. He suggests that our first drive as humans is the drive to belong and that we are naturally softwired towards empathetic behaviour to feel another’s plight because of mirror neurons in our brains. We are not softwired for aggression and materialism rather we are softwired for attachment, companionship and sociability. When talking about an empathetic civilization we are not talking about Utopia or heaveb where there is no such thing as suffering; because in order to feel empathy one needs to experience frailties, pain and weaknesses.

Rifkin also makes it clear that if we are not able to extend our empathy beyond the human species, we have no future on the planet. He also asks the audience to consider how empathy has changed across history and how it has affected consciousness. And as a species can we shift our consciousness?

View it here

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The latest Guardian features a warning from the UN that rising food prices could spark worldwide unrest and threaten political stability. At a conference in Dubai, Sir John Holmes, undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and UN emergency relief coordinator, announced that escalating prices would trigger protests and riots in vulnerable nations, and that food scarcity and soaring fuel prices would compound the damaging effects of global warming. Sir John Holmes also observed:

- On average, the price of food has risen 40% since last summer

- Climate change has doubled the number of disasters from an average of 200 a year to 400 a year in the past two decades

And examples of the violence which has erupted as a result of food scarcity include:

- Riots in Haiti

- Violent protests in the Ivory Coast

- Price riots in Cameroon in February

- Heated demonstrations in Mauritania, Mozambique and Senegal

- Protests in Uzbekistan, Yemen, Bolivia and Indonesia

In Jordan UN staff went on strike for a day this week to demand a pay raise in response to the 50% hike in prices, and rice producing countries such as Cambodia, China, Vietnam, India and Pakistan have curbed their rice exports to guarantee enough supplies for their residents.

The World Bank’s president, Robert Zoellick, has announced that unless the US, Europe, Japan and other wealthy countries provide funds, “many more people will suffer and starve”. Others, such as UK Professor and new chief scientific adviser to the government, John Beddington, warn that the damaging effects of the food crisis will make itself more quickly felt than climate change.

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new definitions of economics

I came across the new economics foundation (nef), a group that was formed in 1986 by the leaders of The Other Economic Summit and forced issues such as international debt onto the agenda of the G7 and G8 summits. nef describes itself ‘as an independent think-and-do-tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being.’ nef is attempting to develop a new framework for understanding economics. Their website inclues the following definition:

nef’s theoretical new economics programme aims to build a framework for a new economics which promotes real well-being (rather than financial wealth), environmental sustainability and social justice.

Their framework tries to connect the latest thinking from alternative branches of economics AND the social sciences with the intent of drawing out practical policy implications. Among their goals is to map out the latest ideas in non-mainstream economics such as behavioural economics (think Freakonomics ), ecological economics (think The Nature of Economies by Jane Jacobs ) and institutional economics.

One of their projects transforming markets emerged from the nef’s corporate accountability programme to advance the debate on corporate social responsibility (CSR). Transforming markets investigates what keeps corporations entrenched in a short-term, profit-driven business cycle. nef actually advocates for bold reforms to break away from the current CSR context.

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Green Hits North America in the 11th Hour

I was intrigued to see that even in snow white Montreal, there are signs of greening. Popular yoga clothing store Lululemon has got its windows dressed in an eco footprint url. And even Regis and Kelly Ripa’s morning program is currently hosting a week of “Green”. Is North America also catching the green fever that has been spreading in the UK? Seems like mainstream cultural leaders may be biting.

And don’t forget to pick up the April edition of Vanity Fair’s Green issue. There are some scathing articles on Rush Limbaugh, one of America’s most hated by the left, a flattering review of once laughed-at Prince Charles for his organic farming ways, and a brief preview of Leonardo DiCaprio’s follow-up documentary to Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, The 11th Hour. Included in the film is even a chapter on sustainable design featuring design guru Bruce Mau.

And just a quick mention that one of my favorite websites WorldChanging has been nominated for the Webby awards.

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Hong Kong Marathon Pollution

I am in Hong Kong to do my last series of demographic roundtables. The front page of the South China Morning Post tells the story of 6,200 marathon runners needing first aid because of the difficult weather conditions: high humidity and pollution. 35 were admitted to hospital during the run. Poor air quality was blamed for one death and 5000 cases of reported sickness. The pollution reading was medium according to officials (first time ever it has been released), but later rose to 71 in the central district, which is apparently half of the reading recorded in last year’s marathon.

Just another friendly sign of our tampering with the environment.

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Gorilla Start

The silence is finally broken. In some ways I can’t believe four days have passed without a word from fb. In other ways, maybe the world breathed a sigh of relief. So I have decided to tie in a big belch of a start to the month of March. On my way to work today I was passed a leaflet, and I have decided to run one of the many runs organised by the Gorilla Foundation. Each runner is provided with a gorilla suit and must complete the physical challenge in full gorilla gear. Apparently there are only 700 gorillas remaining at wild. What could be better? If you care to help sponsor me, as I must raise £500 to be able to participate, please please email me :)

I am even considering contacting the Guerrilla Girls to see if there may be a synergy… Wild minds think alike.

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Climate Change and the Built Environment

Last week the director of Foresight & Innovation, Chris Luebkeman, spoke at a massive teach-in held in New York for architecture students on the Climate Change Imperative 2010. Tens of thousands of people were expected to gather from all over the world for the emergency teach-in. The live web-cast featured a panel of experts on climate change usch as Dr. James Hansen, the Director for NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Edward Mazria, AIA Founder, and our very own Chris Luebkeman, as the Director of Foresight & Innovation for Arup.

At Arup a few of us gathered around the FII ground space projector to watch as Chris challenged the architecture students to think more extensively about their footprints.

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Creatures of Credit

“Humanity is no longer living off nature’s interest, but drawing down its capital. This growing pressure on ecosystems is causing habitat destruction or degradation and permanent loss of productivity, threatening both biodiversity and human well-being.” World Wildlife Federation

We do it with our budgets. We do it with our planet. What makes us think that we can maintain debt indefinitely? Should we blame the private sector for creating the credit system and then helping to generate our demand and inflating our consumption. We are a consumption culture. Gobble, gobble, gobble. A part of me can’t help but feel that the new wave of consumer content creation is directly related to our consumption levels. We need to create otherwise we would explode with all of the mass we accumulate. Should we blame our governments for allowing our countries to slide into debt? Or should we skip the blame game in general and start taking a serious look at how we are living, what we are doing to overstress the earth and its biodiversity.

Living in a city makes it easy to forget the green. We cannot forget the green. Without it and its ecosystems, there really is nothing worthwhile. Not even credit.

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Andean Glaciers are Melting

In case you were wondering, global warming is still happening and affecting more and more regions of the world, as well as their people. An article in The Guardian reports that the Andean glaciers are melting so fast that they are expected to disappear within the next 15 to 25 years “denying major cities water supplies and putting populations and food supplies at risk in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia.” Because the glaciers represent sources of water for South American populations, their impending disappearance is of deep concern to officials in the region as it would present a severe loss to those dependent on them.

Not only that but the melting glaciers affects the habits of local farmers in ways that have an even more negative and cumulative impact on the environment.”The [drastic melt] forces people to farm at higher altitudes to grow their crops, adding to deforestation, which in turn undermines water sources and leads to soil erosion and putting the survival of Andean cultures at risk,” says the report by the Working Group on Climate Change and Development.

And in what is becoming an increasing trend the groups associated with the Working Group on Climate Change and Development in South America are calling on rich countries to drastically reduce their carbon emissions and to take responsibility for the negative impact they have had on less developed regions of the world. Juan Maldonado, the former environmental minister of Columbia and president of the UN convention on biological diversity has gone as far as to say that “The only option we have, apart from demanding that developed countries take responsibility for the damages that climate change is causing, is to try to neutralise the adverse impacts that are [already] upon us. It is time to rethink the model of international aid”.

One wonders whether the tension between the developed and developing world will escalate as the environmental and social impacts of climate change increasingly make themselves felt. With each new environmental disaster in a developing region the impact does serious damage to poor communities who are already struggling to survive. It would not surprise me to hear more and more voices speaking on behalf of these impoverished communities and demanding more accountability from the international community. The question is how will the international community respond? I also wonder, while I agree with the criticism being lobbied, whether the “us against them” dynamic being established between the developing and developed regions is the best way to approach and negotiate the challenges of climate change.

Stay tuned.

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World Water Week August 20-26 2006

It is World Water Week in Stockholm, and it couldn’t come a day too soon. This a few days after the fact that the WWF has released a report “Rich Countries, Poor Water” detailing the water stress affecting many parts of the world, and not just within the developing economies, it is also affecting big cities in the West like Houston. While I have to admit Water World always recalls images of Kevin Costner in his ill-fated rubber wetsuit fighting to keep himself and his career afloat in a world of Hollywood fabricated water, it is much less of a laughing matter that the CIA predicted that by 2015 almost hald of the world’ population will be stressed for water. And while we may laugh at Costner’s portrayal of a society of people fighting each other for the last drops of drinkable water, water stress does inevitably lead to conflict and water wars as exhibited in Dafur.

According to the WWF report, in London leaks from ageing water mains are wasting 300 Olympic swimming pools’ worth of water every single day. And southern Europe is becoming drier as a result of climate change and further north Alpine glaciers – a significant source of water – are shrinking. A water crisis is expected to impact India and China hardest as they are among the world’s most populated regions and as the fastest growing economies are feeling the squeeze for energy resources.

If we are currently feeling the heat of oil prices, I can only imagine a future escalation in water prices. I have already seen private investors in the US being quoted in the media for calling water the “next liquid gold” as they anticipate the scarcity of water pushing up its value. You can always count on the private sector to find the silver lining in any crisis. Water included.

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