Our final week was time to reflect on what we have learned during the Sustainable Development module. The main thing I have taken from it is that it is not easy!! The sheer amount of things to be taken into consideration in trying to implement this is huge. When we started this module my view of the concept was very innocent; that we should all recycle a bit more try use a bit less fossils fuels and everything would be just fine. But it is simply not that easy. It all comes back to one of our very first lectures where we saw the string theory in action, everything is linked and has far-reaching effects. Overall I have enjoyed this module. To hear from people with expertise in various different backgrounds was very interesting and I feel my eyes have been opened to new ways of thinking regarding this area.
Discussing sustainable development can be quite a frustrating subject. We, as a planet seem to be willingly turning a blind eye to all the factual evidence being presented to us and heading down a very dangerous path. The seems to be very little being done to get to a sustainable level. This was brought to light to me very early on in this module when we learnt how many commentators lauded the success of the Durban conference last winter , which was about issues key to our planets sustainability,where the main conclusion was that the worlds governments agreed to have a solution by 2015. Hardly a roaring success. But how do you measure success when your unsure of how to measure and what to measure? So this week we added another layer to the complex web that is sustainable development by discussing sustainability metrics.
‘Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future’. It is a definition that is widely accepted but it is there that the consensus ends, what exactly is sustainability.
I think this diagram captures well the broad outline of sustainability. As usual there are a lot of issues to be taken into account and it is here that opinions vary. While staunch environmentalists might preach using only 100% eco friendly methods across the board, companies still have to turn profits in order to survive, as economies need thriving businesses, as people need a strong economy to be able to have jobs which in turn benefits the social aspect of live. It is all about striking the right balance.
We discussed the pros and cons of weak and strong sustainabilities.Obviously there can be holes picked in both of the theories but ultimately I think they are good and indeed vital to the future planning of the planet. The idea of the Ecological footprint is one that divides people, the internet is full of articles commenting on its merits e.ghttp://eprints.lse.ac.uk/3058/1/Weak_and_strong_sustainability_in_the_SEEA_(LSERO).pdf andhttp://www.censa.org.uk/docs/Crishna_MSc2007_Scott_Farm_EF.pdf
But I think that the ecological footprint is a very good idea and I hope it gains more support and becomes even more accepted than it currently is. At least if it becomes the accepted measure worldwide then everyone will be playing by the same rules. Currently I feel many countries and organisations are playing to different agendas and end up protecting their own interests. An example of this would be Brazil. I have written about Brazil before and the good things they have done such as developing a bio fuel industry and becoming energy independent and growing their economy. However despite this they are still causing huge amounts of environmental damage through deforestation and indeed a lot of their economy is based on the continued practice of deforestation. If the ecological footprint is adapted as a worldwide measure and incorporated into law then maybe cases such as this could be stopped.
At the start I mentioned how there does not seem to be much being done to forward sustainability.Progress on the issues seems to be slow. However a quick search of the internet and I was able to find government websites detailing, a sustainable development deal between USA and China(http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/TG1171.aspx) Swedens sustainability plan( http://www.swedesd.se/strong-sustainability) and New Zealands plan(http://nz.phase2.org/what-is-strong-sustainability) to name just a few. I found this very encouraging and hopefully countries can keep the issues at the forefront. The only downside was I could not find much information on Irelands plans for sustainability. Traditionally we have not performed well in the areas around sustainability but hopefully we will improve on this into the future.
In all the issues we have looked at in sustainable development the message is clear, we are simply consuming too much of everything. We are in the modern ‘push of a button’ society, a consumer society where for much of the worlds population anything we want is almost right at our fingertips. When we first started sustainable development I presumed that most of the subject would be dominated by the overuse and depletion of fossil fuels. However I have now come to realise that it is about much more than that. We are in a state now of overusing and overproducing everything and that is simply not sustainable.
In this modern world everyday people are simply inundated with options and choices right down to the most mundane things. A simple trip to my local supermarket last week revealed to me three different types of fig rolls,all in red packets, all with very similar ingredients and all looking the same!! So why has it come to this? And is it such a bad thing?
The most obvious reason as to how it has come to this is money. A consumer society always has a marketplace and over the last half century in particular the market has exploded across every sector. Henry Ford once had the car market dominated but like every other good idea it was taken and adapted by others and now there are millions of carsa across the globe produced by a multitude of manufacturers. Basically people and companies see what is successful for others and bring it into their own companies and try and sell. Hence why nearly every biscuit company in the world has their own type of fig roll and I am spoilt for choice in the supermarket.
Spot the Difference!!
And we as consumers like this as the more brands there is then the more competitive the pricing. Not to mention all the jobs created and contributions to the economy. But at some point we have to ask ourselves is all these products and mass production a totally good thing? Is it nesscessary to have so many fig rolls!!?
All these products have a cost, not just a monetary one but a environmental one too.The majority of products in shops worldwide are packaged with plastic, and generously packaged also. There is overkill on so many levels. To stick with the fig rolls theme most have a plastic package on the outside with a plastic tray iside which sometimes has a supplementary plastic packaging around it, why so much packaging on something that will be finished within a couple of days? It is because of the availability of materials and energy that we have grown accustomed to ver the last century or so. We have encountered very few problems or shortages over this time. With unprecedented levels of discovery of new technologies and methods to utilise the abundant raw materials on the planet we have developed and developed at a huge rate. The last hundred and fifty years have seen the most changes in lifestyle in the history of the planet. However the big problem is that this is simply not sustainable.
To continue at the rates of production and consumption we have at present is both dangerous and ultimately impossible. In time people will realise that it will be no longer even remotely possible to continue as we are at present.Raw materials are no longer as abundant, energy supplies the same, which will hinder production and distribution. In fifty years time this era of choice multiple production could well be behind use. It just simply cannot stay going at the same rate and it might not be such a bad thing.With less easy options and products available it would force countries to become more self sufficient and efficient which is what we are aiming for with sustainability. And I don’t think I will suffer too badly with only one type of fig roll to choose from.
Over the last couple of weeks we have been discussing the laws and policies and economic considerations that have to be taken into account when attempting to develop a sustainable future. It quickly became apparent how difficult it can be to tie all the various interests together. It is a huge task for countries,trade organisations and international communities to try to cater for everyone and every type of industry. So personally I feel if sustainability is to be achieved people and companies are going to have to take a more proactive and personal role in trying to change their ways. It is not enough for people to wait around until the environment for sustainability is created , they should strive to help create that environment through their own actions.With this in mind I feel the concept of corporate social responsibility can play a big role.
In recent years environmental awareness has grown amongst everyone. However it can still be difficult to get people away from the idea of making as much money as possible regardless of the consequences. It does not have to be this way though and slowly businesses are beginning to realise the benefits of taking care of the areas in which they are based, on both a social and economic level. I experienced this at first hand when I worked in Australia a couple of years ago. I worked for a pipe-laying company on the Mardi-Mangrove link project(http://www.gwcwater.nsw.gov.au/index.php/mardi-mangrove-link). This was a 24 kilometre pipeline to share the water reserves between two reservoirs. With a project of this size there was a large potential for the job to have an adverse effect on the local inhabitants both during construction and after completion. This meant there was a strong possibility for conflict between the locals and the companies working on the project.
However it never came to that. The company that was overseeing the whole job and hiring in all the other contractors put structures and systems in place that let the job proceed with minimal fuss. Firstly all persons commencing work on the job had to all necessary licenses and qualifications(eg safety passes). This may seem like a small detail but they are important as they ensure all workers have a basic understanding of the conduct required on the job and in such large-scale jobs these details are often overlooked. Then before you were allowed to start work you had to complete a two-day induction course. This was when I really gained an insight into how seriously they took all the issues that would affect the surrounding area and people.
There were many rules and procedures we were forced to follow. First and foremost all workers had to wear required safety gear at all times with no exceptions and all work had to be supervised by a site manager and engineer. Safety of the workers was the most important issue. As the pipeline ran basically parallel to the local road network there was a huge volume of traffic everyday. For safety, upon entering and leaving each work site trucks and vans had to have a traffic control present, with the rule that civilian traffic was always let go first,so the local drivers had minimal delays as they went about their business. The pipeline crossed through many farmers land so non destruction/pollution was a major concern. Spill kits had to be present on each site. These kits had items which could absorb and control any spillage of fuel or oil from machines. We were also told to record any such spillage and report them to the environmental officer.Pretty much all the work we did had a lot of paper work behind it such as environmental assessments, work permits and work strategy forms, everything was recorded and kept track of. Another major directive was that any land where we laid pipes we were to restore to previous condition, or as close as possible. This was a major issue for the local farmers and had a positive impact on their attitudes to the work being done
A major factor that helped achieve all this was the fact that each worker was required to carry an ID card at all times and to produce this idea if asked by any civilian our local person you may encounter who had an issue or problem. This ensured that each worker had an onus on them to conduct themselves in a responsible and safe manner at all times. Theres was no cloak of anonymity for anyone on the job to hide behind. Also once every month there was an open day on the jobs base, where the offices were, when locals could come in and chat with some of the engineers/managers about what was happening on the various stages of the job.
All of this combined into the corporate social responsibility of the company. At the time I like many of the other workers thought much of it was just hot air and a waste of time but as we discussed it in the lectures last week the reasoning behind it all became apparent. The lines of communication on the job between the workers and the locals were key. The locals never felt like they were out of the loop and that their interests were not important. This was one of the main reasons why there was such uproar on the Corrib gas line.It ensured a degree of trust developed and that the locals did not cause any problems or delays which often occur on large-scale projects. This took a lot of time and effort but I feel it was ultimately worth the effort as it ensured a smooth progress on the job. And another part of the corporate social responsibility that was very evident on the job was the importance of the workers interests and safety. The workers were not taken advantage of and forced into reckless practices. everything was geared toward getting the job done efficiently and safely. Like I said at the time I thought a lot of these measures were a waste of time but after discussing the concepts in the lectures last week I can now understand the value companies can accrue from having such a structure in place. Here is a link to a good article on the project that shows how the needs of all the relevant stakeholders were taken into account.(http://pipeliner.com.au/news/being_pro-active_with_pipelines_the_mardi-mangrove_link/056248/)
Much of the talk surrounding sustainable development is about what are the challenges facing us and what solutions are available and achievable. Obviously identifying problems and proposing alternatives is crucial but of equal importance is how we implement these ideas and how successfully they ae embraced on a wider level. It is pointless having a directive that is not followed. For this we need policies and laws, on local, regional, national and international levels. But as anyone who has ever watched a television show would know, the legal world is far from straight forward!
So why is sustainability dependent on the law? Sustainability while based on many facets is intrinsically linked to the environment and reducing damage to it. The modern world has developed to the point where many of our current practices are utterly unsustainable in the long term.It can be very difficult to break these habits of a lifetime, habits of generations.We simply cannot just educate people/industries on the issues and propose better practices and presume they will comply. In many cases it is required to put these proposals into law to ensure compliance.Sounds easy to say we should make laws that keep the environments needs to the forefront, but when you consider the sheer volume of issues and practices that contribute to the environment it shows how complicated things are. Agriculture, transport,energy, climate,economics, culture/traditions……………..
Our situation in Ireland is that the laws of our country are defined by our constitution, Bunreacht na Eireann, but as we are also a member of the European Union we also have to uphold some of the decisions made there.
So while we have our own constitution and are still an independent entity free to act towards our own interests we are limited, helped ,controlled, supported(depending on your opinion!!) by the EU.
Environmental legislation from Europe is something we in Ireland have become acquainted with in the last few months as we have been introduced to the much derided septic tank charge. In recent times in Ireland people have become increasingly wary and angry with Europe and its authority. Much of this is because of the current economic situation we are in. It shows how making laws and policies is not clear-cut. The mood of society at the time can have a huge bearing.
Traditional Concrete Septic Tank- Similar to the majority of tanks currently in use in Ireland.
On the septic tank issue many people can only see the opposition side of things. It is the culture at the moment in Ireland. The people feel let down by previous administrations and feel aggrieved by how we now seem to be totally under the thumb of the EU.These emotions can sometimes cloud the issue at hand which I feel is happening in the current case.
The main argument against the charge is that we have never have to pay for our septic tanks before so why should we now? Also the many people in Ireland are in tough financial times and there is a fear of having to pay a big fee to have tanks upgraded or cleaned. But fact remains that Ireland is a member of the EU and has to uphold the policies that have been made there, with Irelands input.(EU Waste Directive-http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/index.htm) The EU runs much of its waste management policy on the polluter pays principle which is the reason for the tank issue.
People should step back and look at the facts before condemning these proposals.http://www.siteassessor.com/blog/septic-tank-consultation-document-released-99.html The facts are according to environment minister Phil Hogan,up until June people can register their tanks for just €5, hardly a bank breaking sum. The assessment of tanks is free, a key issue people seem to disregard. It is going to cost nothing to find out if you have a potential health hazard in your back garden. The only costs that people might get is if there is a problem with their tank, which is surely something people would want to sort out anyway,and there will be financial support for this process available to people who require it. Nobody wants a smelly sludgy unhealthy problem on their doorstep surely?
Ireland has developed as a country in a very scattered manner, we seem to like our own space. Therefore there is a lot of one-off sewerage systems around the country so it is something we definitely have to regulate for the sake of our environment. Ireland has not performed very well on sustainability and environment issues before as the number of times we have had to answer cases to the EU shows(http://ec.europa.eu) If we are to truly ensure for ourselves a sustainable future we have to start making a stand and implementing these policies. They are not there for no reason, there is a genuine benefit to them. In the of the septic tank issue water supplies and local land will be the beneficiaries as well as the possible health issues that could arise due to unsuitable tanks.
Laws are not easy to make and can meet several obstacles along the way but once a law is agreed upon it should be obeyed and enforced. I feel for too long in Ireland we have had a culture of short cuts and loopholes in the legal system, and that doesn’t just apply to environmental issues, its time for us to become more forceful when applying our laws.
Across the world there are many different types of economies, some based on technology, some powered by agriculture and some fuelled by various natural resources available. There are no two economies the same as climate, population, skill sets and traditions are just some of the many factors that differentiate them all. However all economies do have one thing in common, the ambition to grow and develop. That is what is craved for economies as in that arena to even stand still is to go backwards.
However there is a price to pay for economic development. That price is the damage that can be done to the environment. It is undeniable that many of the worlds biggest industries are causing great harm to the environment and theat something urgently needs to be done before it’s too late. However convincing people of the need to take ownership and responsibility of this is proving to be troublesome. http://www.idebate.org/debatabase/topic_details.php?topicID=648 In a nutshell the developed nations have caused most of the damage as they grew their own economies and industries over the years.Now as its apparent something needs to be done the developing nations feel they are being restricted in their growth by having to abide by new regulations that previous regimes did not have to contend with. While it is easy to say that the developing nations have to share responsibility to ensure the future of the planet, the pressures they have to contend with are huge. With growing populations the need for jobs is immediate. Also societies are constantly trying to improve quality of life. People just want to have a parity of lifestyle with their fellow man in other parts of the world, hardly too outrageous of a wish.
And it’s not as if the developing nations are getting a lot of help with these challenges. For example USA did not sign up to the Kyoto agreement, mainly due to pressure from the oil industry (http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/news-and-blogs/news/u-s-withdraws-from-kyoto-prot/). The reason given by the Bush administration was that conforming to Kyoto would have damaged the US economy.Also many of the restrictions did not apply to developing countries. This could have also affected the US economy as they would have been competing with countries with fewer restrictions. As the US is the most powerful country in the world the hope was that they might lead the world rather than protect their own interests. It is a classic example of a country seeing it as more important to keep their economy growing than help the long-term health of the planet.
Developing countries are also being taken advantage of by big industries from developed countries as pollution havens. In most cases developed countries have introduced environmental regulations and policies that must be adhered to. Without the same scale of industries in developing countries previously their environmental policies in many cases not as strict so industries move to these places in order to increase productivity. This might benefit the economy in developing nations but it also undoubtably harms the environment. And in truth much of the profit finds its way back to the developed nations.It is just another example of how the developed world can take advantage of the developing world through an attitude that profit is everything.
But even though both sides have their own interests to uphold they have to realise that they need to come to a compromise. We simply have to change our ways. One area that needs to be explored is the possibility of less environmentally damaging industries. This could enable economies to continue to grow while we change to be more environment friendly. I feel an example for other countries to follow in this regard is Brazil. The following website tells how Brazil has developed as a country in the last 40 years.http://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/articles/hof/hoffeb09.html
Brazil uses renewables for 46% of its energy needs with 90% of electricity powered by renewables,mainly hydro power. Brazil also became energy independent in 2006 which is a great boost to its economy. An interesting development in Brazil has been the ethanol cars movement. They are now primarily producing flex-fuel cars which can either run on 100% ethanol or a mix with gasoline which reduces their carbon emissions by a huge degree.
All this has been done while keeping an economy developing for a growing population. It shows that an economy can grow while embracing more sustainable methods. In fact they were also one of the leading forces in the Durban conference last year on climate change and look set to be one of the key players in years to come on these issues which shows the regard they have for the sustainable development movement.
Brazil is by no means perfect, there are still issues that they have to address as regards deforestation and overfarming. Between 2000 and 2006 Brazil lost about 150,000 square kilometres of forest (an area larger than Greece). http://www.mongabay.com/brazil.html .
And much of their economic growth can be linked to deforestation with more agricultural land available, timber resources from the forests and greater infrastructure and transport accruing from it. This obviously is not a good thing, especially when the earths rainforests are often referred to as ‘the earths lung’. They need to put in place a policy to protect the forest from further damage.
But still I feel they have many good points that other nations can learn from. They have continued to develop as a nation while embracing the renewable industry and I feel this is the way forward for other countries, both developed and developing if we are to become truly sustainable in the future.
Discussing the issues around sustainable development can quite often leave you with a sense of despair. It can sometimes seem like it’s just one big list of problems. We are too reliant on fossil fuels and exhausting the supply, we are not addressing climate change strongly enough, we are abusing nature, the world’s population is increasing too quickly……. So when we started to talk about food and agriculture I thought we were about to have another problem to add to the list. After all the food industry is heavily reliant on fossil fuels for both production and transport, which has its own effects on climate change which then knocks back on potential agricultural lands, which can hinder supply to our ever-growing population. I feared this could be grim reading.
But much of what we discussed in the lectures actually encouraged me. Beforehand I personally felt that we could have a serious problem in the coming years producing enough food to cope with the rising population. So I was surprised to learn that the earth is nowhere near reaching its potential for food production. Con Traas showed us that we produce double the amount of food required on the planet each year. And not only this but agricultural productivity could be increased by four even just with low input targets. My initial fears were unfounded, even if population growths continues at current rates.
But stats and figures can be misleading. We currently produce twice as much food as we need, but not everyone feels the benefits of this.
There are over 850 million people on this planet that do not meet their basic nutritional needs each day ://www.theglobaleducationproject.org/earth/human-conditions.php
The distribution of food around the world is skewed and leaves all these millions of people starving and dying. Predictably the majority of these people live in the developing world.
THE HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX
This is a huge contributing factor on the human development index for the people in these countries. Life expectancy and quality of life for these people is way down on developed countries. This would not be such a tragedy only that it is a completely unnecessary situation. There is more than enough food to go around and the fact that the developed world has the monopoly on the supply is not exactly a good thing for them either. Obesity rates are on the rise in the majority of developed nations and has doubled worldwide since the 1980s according to the World Health Organisation. The health risks are huge and having an unhealthy society can put a huge financial strain on countries also. Instead of putting more food on the tables of the already well fed and possibly increasing future health problems we should try to promote a healthy and responsible relationship with food.
It is in everyone’s interests to try to even up the supply of food around the world. At present it is a mutually destructive situation for both the haves and have-nots. While we strive for a more sustainable future we encounter many issues that require difficult solutions. But food supply is not currently one of the tough calls in my eyes. The supply is there, can be upped if required and the demand is there. All that is required is an evening out of the distribution and there would be benefits for all.
Last week at the start of my blog about climate change I mentioned how fossil fuel dependence was one the key issues to the forefront of the Sustainable Development debate. There are basically three types of fossil fuels, coal ,oil and natural gas(Orimulsion, a bitumen and water mixture discovered in Venezuela,is regarded by some as a possible fourth fossil fuel,however there are major concerns over its environmental impacts due to its high sulphur content and it has not yet made much of an impact in sharing the burden with the three mentioned. And anyway, surely the key to our future sustainability is by not replacing our current fossil fuels with another one!!). To take a quick look at the current world energy usage gives an indication why people our reliance on fossil fuels as potentially dangerous.
As the chart shows quite clearly,the world as we know it is powered by products that have a limited supply. Basically all our modern needs are dependent on fossil fuels. Every major industry in the world is run on fossil fuels. Even the renewable energy industry is dependent on fossil fuels. http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2011/07/solar-powered-factories.html .A contradiction you might say but all renewable products(eg solar panels, pv panels, biomass boilers) have to be produced in factories and many of these factories across the globe are powered from the national grid which of course is mostly powered by fossil fuels!
On the fossil fuels debate it’s not a black and white question of use them or use renewables. It’s about striking the right balance between both.It would be impossible to totally cut out the use of fossil fuels.As I ve mentioned already practically every thing in our modern world is based around them especially oil.There is a lot of information freely available about the limits of oil(eg http://www.peakoil.net/) but while its generally accepted that we have now reached peak oil point it does not necessarily have to be the disaster some say it will, but only if we act now.
We have reached peak oil but there is still a huge amount of it available, which gives us something even more valuable than oil, time. Now is the time for us to start adapting.
What is most important for us now is to be ready for when oil absolutely has to be replaced. If we have evolved and developed for that time then the problems will be miniscule. But if we walk blindly towards that day then there will be potential for chaos.
Think of the chaos if people had no electricity in their homes, no light , no means of storing food through refrigeration. Right now I can hop in my car and be in Limerick city in twenty minutes, without my car it becomes an hour plus cycle with limited possibility for transporting any goods. How would goods and services be distributed on a wider scale, globally?
These are all extreme examples but they all have the same relevant point. There is not a plane in the sky flying without oil derived fuel. The same for practically every car on the planet today. Alternatives are required. We need to further develop and improve electric cars and alternative fuels. Ethanol powered cars have now hit the 2 million mark in Brazil. We need to follow this lead around the globe. This is thinking just the possible ramifications in the area of transport. It will also effect production, agriculture, communications. Practically every industry sector you can think of. Its the total over reliance and lack of alternatives that will create the problems.
http://irishenergynews.com/home/index.php/2010/09/08/electricity-generation-in-ireland/. This graph shows Ireland’s reliance on fossil fuels. It’s not healthy from an environmental, economic or sustainability viewpoint. But we have time to adapt, its vital we do not waste it.