One part of sustainable development is to understand the inter-linkages of the economy, of society, of the environment, and of our politics and government processes, and the other part of sustainable development to do something about it.
We will examine over, you know the coming talks, two different scenerios for the future of the world. One, which I will call business as usual. If we continue more or less on the course that we’re on right now. What kind of world we could expect in ten, 20, 30, 40 years? It’s not all bad. Because, after all, many wonderful things are happening on the planet. Poverty has been declining. Technologies have been advancing. But, there are a lot of risks with business as usual. Especially in the age of the Anthropocene, especially as we trespass planetary boundaries, especially as we see growth that is not inclusive, and leaving large numbers of people behind.
So we want to contrast the business as usual, or BAU path, with a truly sustainable development path for the planet. What would a business as usual path look like? It’s not all terrible. For many people, especially comfortable people of, at the top of the income heap, they say business as usual, looks pretty good to me. The world economy is expanding, life expectancy rising, infant and child mortality falling. One could say, not bad. If we get business as usual, no disaster. I think the problem however, is that that’s a little too optimistic a view of what we really face. Sure, business as usual offers more economic growth, but is it fair and inclusive? How many people will be left behind? What will happen in societies, as we saw in Rio, where the favelas, the slums, are right up against, the modern, and wealthy part of Rio. What happens in those parts of the world really left far behind.
The peasant farmers in dry lands facing more and more droughts. Places that find themselves vulnerable to ever more flooding, but are too poor to do something about it. We know that all too often, the result isn’t merely protest, the result can even be violence, and especially what happens if we just go on our merry way, thinking that we can produce more, have more cars, burn more coal, oil, and gas. Put more carbondioxide into the atmosphere. Cut down more trees. Acidify the oceans. And not respect the planentary boundaries. There I think, we are surely going to get our comeuppance in ways that we really are not very clear about right now, certainly not in our broad, public discussions.
Because the environmental dangers are vast. They are so large, they are coming so fast, they’re so threatening that they could upend the very process of economic development itself. What seems like a pretty safe course of economic growth could turn out to be evanescent. Swept away in floods, withering in droughts, in massive heat waves. A loss of quality of life. Even a massive loss of production, a growing food insecurity that could threaten the entire world. So business as usual, that’s what you see in front of you. Pipelines carrying oil or gas, to, power plants, to factories. Fossils fuels have been a great part of economic growth ever since the invention of the steam engine powered by coal in England in the 18th century. But, by using so much of it, by putting so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by deranging the climate system, this kind of business as usual, poses an enormous threat. Now we’ve gotten pretty good at finding new sources of natural gas, hydro fracking. New sources of oil, new ways to produce oil such as in Canada’s tar sands, a place that you see in this picture, criss-crossed by roads.
Massive use of water and land to dig out this heavy oil that needs a special kind of processing and that of course, would have a market around the world, but at what cost? At what cost to the environment of Canada, where you see how polluting these processes are. What cost to the world’s environment? As these tar sands and other fossil fuels are burned in such vast numbers that they derange the climate.
Will we see more massive drought in the Sahel? A drought that was so severe, covering Chad and Mali and neighboring countries, that it led to tremendous amounts of violence, contributed to the outbreak of war in Mali and in continuing violence in other places. Droughts like this affected many parts of the poorest countries, will we see more of that?
And of course, if economic growth is not perceived to be fair, if the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, if the poor feel left behind and cheated by those at the top of the heap, will we see more unrest, more instability. We know it from New York City where we saw the Occupy Wall Street movement.Protests against what the protesters called the top 1%, and calling for legality and responsibility on Wall Street after the devastation of the 2008 financial crisis.
But these street protests weren’t just on Wall Street or in other parts of the United States. In Tunis in 2011 in Cairo, in Athens, in Tel Aviv, Chile, Madrid, Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro. Cities around the world, there have been growing street protests, protests mostly led by young people. Protesting high unemployment, high income inequality, corruption in government, lack of accountability, lack of transparency, is that the kind of business as usual path that we want?
We study sustainable development because we can do better, by understanding technology, by understanding the interconnections of economic, social, environmental and political systems. What you see here is an example of innovation in the Netherlands, one of the most sustainable countries.
This innovative building called the whale is a highly innovative architecture where the tenants enjoy sunlight, open space and a building has been built in harmony with the natural environment. Half of the world’s population today lives in cities. That will rise to perhaps 70% in cities by the year 2030.
Vastly more than half of the world’s economy is in cities, so a great deal of the path to sustainable development will be through sustainable urbanization. Smart cities, smart architecture, smart systems of transport, of power, of water use. Of recycling of wastes that cities can achieve when they put their mind to it. Paris, perhaps, on everybody’s list, among the favorite most beautiful cities in the world. We see the, the new innovation of bicycles in the cities. People want to be out bicycling in cities. Massive congestion. Massive pollution not good for our physical health. So walking and bicycling will necessarily become more important technologies of the 21st century. And I’m happy that in cities around the world, that there is a return to bicycling, using clever shirt, the bicycle systems, new walkways, and places where people can improve their health, because city is a, can be places where the obesity epidemic and, and poor health take hold. In Bogota, there were great innovations in using rapid transit, and bus systems to move people much more cleanly and effectively than individual car ownership. And congestion was reduced, pollution was reduced, carbon dioxide emissions were reduced, another example of how innovation in transportation can make, a very big difference for the future.
And, look at these two examples of, so called, self-driving vehicles. Using the revolutions of information technology, cars themselves, detect other cars, detect pedestrians. And the cars, are able not only to drive themselves but to offer a much more efficient mode of transport. Well, who knows what technology will bring but we can see that one of the pathways to sustainable development is through smarter technological systems. Converting automobiles from the internal combustion engine, which burns petroleum, to electric vehicles charged by electricity produced by clean energy, could be one of the most effective ways to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions in the future. And to get that clean electricity, we need to move off of our addiction to fossil fuels, to coal, oil, and gas. And to move to what technology is now offering, much lower cost and effective harnessing of nature’s own energy sources, especially solar power and wind power. In many parts of the world, solar and wind power are already at grid parity.
What does that mean? It means that they are already, at an economic cost, competitive with more traditional, fossil fuel based energy systems. This is a picture of a solar thermal concentrator and collector, where you see large mirrors set up in a desert region to collect solar power, that turn it into energy for electricity production. There are many ways to do it. It could be photo-voltaic cells, we’ll look at later on, it could be concentrated solar thermal energy where you use the heat that’s produced to boil water, to turn steam turbines to produce electricity. Exciting technologies but what they mean is ways to rid ourselves of the addiction to fossil fuels which have brought us a modern economy to be sure. But have now put us in danger because of the rising CO2 levels.
And the advances are, not only in information technology, better urban design. Clever architectures, smarter grids, smarter transport systems, renewable energy. But breakthroughs in agronomy, in biology. You see here a site testing a new kind of rice, which is bred through special breeding processes, to be able to resist flooding, something that obviously will be very important. Afford the farmers, in Bangladesh for example, where this new kind of rice has been shown to be highly effective when normal fields are flooded the rice dies. But by breeding rice in ways, that that have what includes gene patterns that allow the rice to survive submergence and flooding. You save lives, improve food security, and find ways to sustainability.
So this, at the essence, gives us a hint of what a sustainable development pathway might mean. Business as usual, we know a lot about that. And we see more and more how risky it can be. A sustainable development pathway, the core features of that would be societies that ensure that all parts of the society. Girls as well as boys, women as well as men, and minorities all of different regions, all children have access to a healthy start in life, to good nutrition and healthcare, and especially to the education that they will need to be productive. And skilled members of their society both in the labor force and also as citizens. A good start means inclusion and it means avoiding these mass inequalities of wealth and poverty that afflict the planet. Sustainable development will mean a new kind of urbanization. Smarter cities, new transport systems, smarter power grids, fed by renewable energy rather than by traditional fossil fuels. New kinds of vehicles, public transportation, or bicycles, and walking that can also keep us healthy. New ways to build buildings that are much more energy efficient. And much more pleasant and consistent with the, with nature.
At the essence of sustainable development, is problem solving. We have a lot of problems. We’re going to need a global effort. In a focused and relatively short period of time. A matter of decades, not centuries. To move from the business as usual trajectory to the sustainable development trajectory. And in order to accomplish that, every part of the world will have to be involved in brain storming in determining new and creative ways to ensure inclusive and sustainable growth.
That’s going to be your job in the coming years, and that’s going to be our task in the coming sessions, where we investigate what those problems are, what their core features are and what innovative new design can mean, to enable us to choose that path of sustainable development.