Introduction to Sustainable Development
Today, we’re talking about sustainable development. This is a crucial concept. I think it’s crucial for the world. But what does it mean? I think our starting point has to be, how crowded our world is today. We’re 7.2 billion people. The numbers have soared. We’re up ten times since the start of the industrial revolution. Billions more people are likely to be added to the world’s population in the 21st century. This is making for a very complicated world. A world divided between great wealth and still crippling poverty. A world facing unprecedented environmental challenges. Sustainable development is really two ideas. One, is a way to understand this complicated world. How do the economic, the social, the environmental, the political, the cultural factors fit together? And the second aspect of sustainable development is the idea of sensible goals for this crowded, interconnected planet. How do we make the world both prosperous, fair and also environmentally sustainable, so that our numbers, and our economy don’t overrun the physical planet itself? That’s really the aim of the study of sustainable development. To understand the world and of course, to help improve the world. And we need to get into that complexity. Any idea there’s one answer, one simple, magic formula, one explanation, one force at work; we have to put that aside. We have to embrace complexity, because we are talking about a complicated, interconnected set of relations of a world economy that now spans all parts of the world. And connects all people, all businesses, technologies in flows of trade, finance, ideas, advertising, production systems, but also connects us with the physical Earth, in unprecedented ways. Humanity actually changing the climate, changing what specie survive on the planet, changing the chemistry of the ocean, changing the safety of the air, changing the access and availability of fresh water. It’s an unprecedented situation. It’s a fascinating situation. It will be the challenge of your generation. Let’s see what we can figure out of all of this and how through that knowledge we can do something about it. Have a look at this remarkable, the piece of technology the Maglev in Shanghai. Which carries people at speeds of more than 200 miles per hour, more than 400 kilometers per hour, to and from the city and the airport. It, it’s a magnificent piece of technology. A product of joint work of a major leading engineering companies and Europe and those in China. It’s been operating for the past decade. It is a kind of model of what sustainability can mean in the future. Because if a electric, trains, these, magnetic levitation trains or fast intercity rail based on electricity are powered by, clean electricity. Then we have a way of helping people to move helping goods and services to move in a way that’s safe for environment and technology is exemplified by the Maglev is definitely one way forward. But we also have to realize that not all the world right now is in, in the state of traveling to and from the airport in magnetic levitation. Let’s look a, another remarkable city another great city in many ways, but crowded beyond belief, the city of Dhaka. You see a crowds bustle, and actually a kind of transport you can hardly find anywhere else in the world. I’ve experienced it, it’s astounding to ride in a bicycle, a rickshaw or one of these buses on this incredibly crowded path. Thousands and thousands of people walking to and from work. Life out on the streets. What are we really seeing here? First, we are seeing one of the most crowded places in the world. We are seeing an example of the incredible rise of global population. Bangladesh is a country now, with around 160 million people. That’s more than four times the 37 million people in Bangladesh in the middle of the last century in 1950. Dhaka, itself, is one of the largest cities in the world right now but think of what’s happened. In 1965 Dhaka had about a half a million people. Today Dhaka has more than 15 million people. You can imagine how the infrastructure’s been completely over run. How transport systems, water systems, sanitation systems and all the rest Are facing unbelievable stress with this kind of population increase. This is also part of the reality of our planet. How do you achieve sustainable development in a, very low income, very crowded place like Bangladesh. Especially taking into account how vulnerable low-lying Bangladesh is to the climate change ahead.So, sustainable development for us, first, is a way to understand these complicated challenges. I think it’s useful to think of there being four dimensions to that puzzle. There’s the economics, there’s the societal dimension, how our communities work, culture, civil society, there’s the natural environment and there’s our political or government systems. How do economic, social, environmental and government systems interact? The second way to think about sustainable development is not only as an analytical approach, one that takes a holistic view of society. But also as what we would call a normative or ethical approach, identifying goals for society. Sustainable development urges us to have a holistic vision of what a good society should be. Sometimes people say well good society is a rich society. But we know that can’t quite be it just to focus on the economics. If a country is rich on average, but all the wealth is held by very few people and most of the people are poor, Think most of us would say that’s not a good society in the sense, that we would aspire towards. So social inclusion is the second aspect of a good society. Meaning that economic well being is widely shared among different ethnic religious or racial groups in a country. It’s shared between men and women. So, there’s gender equality, it’s shared among regions of a country, so that there’s not just one pocket of prosperity in a sea of poverty. A third aspect of what we would think to be a good society is one that is a good steward of the natural nvironment. We all know that if we break the physical systems of biodiversity if we destroy the oceans if we deforest the great rain forests, we’re going to lose immeasurably. If we continue on a path that fundamentally changes the Earth’s climate in a way that’s unrecognizable for us in the way that humanity has developed. We’re going to face grave dangers. So from a normative perspective, environmental sustainability certainly seems right. If we care about the well being of our children and future generations. And for most of us we also care very much how government functions. People living in places with massive corruption with lawlessness. Where the politicians are not to be trusted. Where government services are not fair. Where there’s massive discrimination, insider dealing and so forth. This creates a lot of unhappiness. All over the world, people feel happier and better when they can trust their government. But unfortunately, many places in the world, people don’t trust their governments to be honest, to be fair, even to keep them basically secure. So from a normative perspective, we could say that a good society is not only a wealthy society. But is one that is prosperous and inclusive, environmentally sustainable and well governed. And our fundamental question will be how can we take sustainable development as a goal? Use our knowledge of the interconnections of the economy, of society, of the environment and of governments. To think through this crowded 21st century in a world of massive divisions of wealth and poverty and world of unprecedented environmental stress. But also in a world of Maglevs and many, many other technological miracles. How can we find our way through, through this century to produce property that is inclusive, that is sustainable. And that is according to decent governance with rule of law, transparency and accountability. There are some very powerful ways forward to meet sustainable development as a goal a shared goal for the planet.
Chapter 2: Economic Growth and Progress
One very crucial aspect of sustainable development is economic well-being and prosperity. There have been great gains in material well-being. In average income per person, in other indicators of material life, such as health and life expectancy, over the course of recent decades. We’ll see, of course, that these are not gains enjoyed by everybody within a country, certainly not in all parts of the world. But on average there have been very notable gains in economic well-being achieved through decades of economic growth. And this is a phenomenon that is of crucial importance for those countries that are still poor today. Perhaps their, their greatest goal is to achieve economic growth so that they can narrow the gap in material conditions that they face today with respect to the richer countries. If those countries living in extreme poverty today where, that they can hardly meet their basic needs, are aiming to live like more of the world that increasingly has assurance of basic needs, and many parts of the world that live with remarkably high standards of living. Another aspect of this material change is that in a world of greater production greater ability to grow food greater productivity in manufacturing, in transport, in power and in other key parts of the economy. The population has risen alongside that from the middle of the last century in 1950, the world’s population at the time was about 2.5 billion people. It’s roughly tripled since then, absolutely extraordinary to around 7.2 billion people today, and the numbers are continuing to rise. Roughly an increase of 75 to 80 million people added to the world’s population each year. Meaning that it won’t be long, probably around 2024, 2025, when another billion people will be on the planet when we’ll reach the 8 billionth person. Let’s look at what growth really means and there has been no, exemplar of economic growth more remarkable than China. Of course, it’s the world’s most populous country, with 1.3 billion people. So anything major that happens in China is earth shaking. But also China has been among the fastest growing economies in world history. Since China undertook some basic market reforms, after 1978 until just about the last couple of years when growth has begun to slow a little bit, China was averaging roughly 10% per year economic growth. Absolutely astounding, and it’s very handy, you know, something that I’ll refer to many times to use what we call the rule of 70. Take the number 70, divide it by the growth rate in this case 10, 70 divided by 10 is 7. It means that China has been doubling it’s national income every seven years. The rule of 70 says 70 divided by the growth rate gives you the number of years to double the size of the economy.
Well, what does that mean? Take a look at Shenzhen China. Shenzhen is a city very close to Hong Kong in southern China. And in 1980, or so, when you receive this picture, Shenzhen was a small village, mainly rural not very many people perhaps 30,000 people living in Shenzhen. Now, take a look at Shenzhen today, nearly 10 million people, Shenzhen has become a modern metropolis, it’s a major manufacturing hub for the world. Not only did populations rise, did incomes per person soar, but also, how people live has clearly, fundamentally changed. From rural agricultural livelihoods to modern urban manufacturing and services and in a matter of three decades. While most of the world’s not going to experience a Shenzhen like change. But that basic pattern of economic growth a transition from poor, small-holder farming to modern manufacturing, especially modern service economy, is part of the normal pathway of economic growth. And while very few places grow at the rate of 10% per year with a seven year doubling time, it’s still is the case that many parts of the world, even many of the poorest parts of the world today are experiencing significant economic growth, and with that a significant transition to urbanization. Any significant transition from agriculture, to manufacture and especially to services. If you look at the next graph, you see something also, absolutely astounding that we really need to keep in mind, and that’s demography. In other words, change of world population. Now, this is a graph that shows you the long, long haul over the last couple million years, even before there was the modern human species. But let’s just take the human part of this and what we call the Neolithic era, that’s since the age of agriculture began around 10,000 years ago. Well, the human population for a long time if you look at the picture from 10,000 years ago, maybe 7 or 8,000 years BC, was less than a half a billion people. Of course, nobody knows but maybe, 300 million people of all the people on the planet. That number did not change very much for a very, very long time the graph is quite flat numbers rising, and maybe to 4 or 500 million people in 1AD. And that tells you that over much of human history since the beginning of agriculture, human population did not change very much. But take a look at the right hand side of the graph, all of a sudden, the population begins to soar. Just about the time of major breakthroughs in technology around the industrial revolution the beginning of the era of the steam engine in 1750 or so, we see the population curve turning up and turning up remarkably steeply. Around 1830, humanity reached the great milestone of a billion people on the planet. So for thousands and thousands of years, the population was under 1 billion. Then from 1830 to 1930 just in one century, the second billion was added. But then the numbers really started to soar, because from 1930 to 1960, just 30 years, the third billion was added. We’re on track to go from 7 billion, reached in the year 2011, to 8 billion, probably around 2024 or 2025, 9 billion sometime in the 2040s. So this change of population is absolutely astounding. Our age is an age of economic growth combined with rapid population growth, and together, those two dynamics have meant a massive expansion of economic activity, of total output produced on the planet each year, and of course, alongside that, a massive increase of humanity’s impact on the planet. And that is one of the great challenges in sustainable development. Now, another bright spot of recent development, is that alongside that economic growth, and alongside the rise in population numbers, has also come improved health. Around 1950, for every 1,000 children who were born, an estimated 134 out of the 1,000 would not survive till their first birthday. That number 134 per thousand is the infant mortality rate. It tells us how many children won’t make it to the first birthday. What’s very heartening is that that number is coming down, and coming down sharply, so that 134 per thousand IMR, or infant mortality rate, is down to an estimated 37 per thousand today. 37 children still don’t make it to their first birthday, dying of malaria or, pneumonia, or other preventable diseases. Millions of children, dying before their first birthday, still of preventable and treatable causes. We’ll talk about that. We’ll see what can be done. We’ll see how even more progress can be made, and can be made rapidly. But taking the historic trends, to drop from 134 to 37, is a real accomplishment. And one that has improved the quality of life and certainly eliminated a lot of the tragedy and anguish that was part of humanities existence until the improvements of public health, and modern medical care. With more children surviving and with health improving at older ages as well, the good news is that our life expectancy is also rising, and rising very considerably. Take a look at what’s happened to what we call life expectancy at birth. That is statistically the, the average length of a life span taking into account the risks of death at each age. In the middle of the last century in the period 1950 to 1955, the average life expectancy you know, for people on the planet was around 47 years. Pretty short. As of today, the estimated life expectancy at birth is more than 70 years. Or roughly 71 years. And in the high income countries, around 80 years. This is another example of economic growth and material progress, and an example of the kind of progress that is being achieved in most parts of the world. What’s the lesson? The lesson is that this first pillar of sustainable development, economic well being, is something that’s achievable, and being achieved in large parts of the planet. There are fewer tragic deaths of young children, and greater health and longevity for most of us, with life expectancy rising several decades from what was experienced in the middle of the last century until now. This shows, while economic development can improve lives, lives in which one can have the confidence that their children will also grow up healthy, survive, and have good prospects in life. But what we need to do, is to ensure that, that economic growth is inclusive, that it’s not leaving millions and millions of people behind, and that it is environmentally sustainable. So that the progress itself doesn’t cut our natural life support systems of biodiversity, food productions, safe climate productive oceans. Because if we do that, the gains that we’ve made will turn out to be fleeting and evanescent, that could lead to real tragedy. So it’s that holistic approach of ensuring, that economic growth and material improvement, is socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable, that is the great challenge.
Chapter 3: Continuing Poverty
In many ways we live in a world of plenty. Economic growth has produced incredible wealth. Many parts of the world have escaped from economic hardship. Countries like China, which were once very poor, are now solid middle income countries. But sustainable development calls for prosperity that is broad based. And, despite living in a world of plenty, there are still large numbers of people, more than a billion, more than one out of every seven persons on the planet, living in extreme poverty. What is the face of extreme poverty? If you look at a small farmer At this peasant living in Northern Ethiopia. There’s no modern transport around you don’t see electricity grids in the distance. You see a pretty parched environment. That’s not a complete coincidence. A dry land area. Of, poor farmers, eking out a living, trying to ensure enough annual food production to feed themselves their families. Maybe to get that surplus to bring to market for a little bit of cash income. Another part of poverty?
Have a look at a street in a slum of Nairobi. Millions of people live in the slums of African cities like Nairobi hundreds of millions of people live in urban slums around the world. This is another face of poverty. While it remains true to this day that more than half of the world’s population living in extreme poverty lived in rural areas, of course, the urban poverty is known to us. Often the urban poverty is living right next to a great urban wealth, and what do we see in this street in Nairobi. You see an unpaved, muddy road. People living without modern power, probably without any modern sewerage or sanitation. In other words, even though these are people living in an urban area of several million people, they’re also like that peasant in Northern Ethiopia, unable to secure basic needs. Access to emergency healthcare. Access to basic clean power in the form of electricity or natural gas for cooking. Lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and barely eking out a monetary living that can meet even the most basic of minimum needs of clothing and safe shelter. When we speak about poverty, therefore, we’re necessarily speaking about a many dimensional concept. Poverty is usually viewed as lack of adequate income, but I want us to think about it as a lack of income, a lack of access to basic health services. A lack of access to basic amenities that most of the world takes for granted. Safe water, sanitation, electricity, access for children to, a decent education. People living in extreme poverty are people who cannot meet these basic needs. And while proportions of the world living in extreme poverty have been shrinking markedly in recent decades, the numbers are still staggering. Depending on one’s estimate and one’s exact categorization of extreme poverty, it’s fair to say, that between one and two billion people in the world are struggling to meet basic needs. And probably fair to say, that around one billion people struggle for daily survival. Will they have enough to eat? Will polluted water cause a disease that threatens their lives? Will a mosquito bite carrying malaria carry away their child because they can’t get access to the $0.80 dose of medicine needed to cure the disease. That’s the struggle of daily survival for people living in extreme poverty. Where is this poverty? Well, one place to look is the average incomes in different parts of the world. Take the national production of the economy, divided by the population so that one gets the amount of income generated per person, per year, in different countries of the world. And if you put them in a color code as you see here. You can see a huge variation in income levels around the world. Those dark blue areas, there aren’t too many of them. Canada, and the United States. Western Europe. Australia and New Zealand. Japan and South Korea. Those are the high income parts of the world. And by and large, extreme poverty has been eliminated from those countries. But take the bright red or beige parts of the world. There you’ll see the greatest poverty. And what you can see very, very clearly in this world map, is that extreme poverty today is concentrated mainly in two regions of the world. The first is in tropical Africa. That’s the part of Africa in between the northern African countries and the countries at the very south of Africa, and you see on average, a lot of poverty within those countries. Often half or so of the population, living in extreme poverty. And the other concentrated part of poverty in the world is in south Asia. India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, nearby countries that are sometimes experiencing economic growth but still with vast numbers of people, often in rural villages, living without security of their basic needs. Thank goodness, in both Africa. And in South Asia. The proportions of households living in extreme poverty are coming down. Thank goodness for the world as a whole, the numbers have been coming down. But clearly, we still have a very serious challenge, a moral challenge and a practical challenge people living in extreme poverty, face risks of survival. Often countries where poverty rates are very high, succumb to violence, to terrorism, to epidemic diseases, to mass migrations, to environmental disasters, that not only are tragedies for them, but can trigger unrest and instability among their neighbors and in other parts of the world as well. We see in the next map another aspect of extreme poverty. People living in extreme poverty face a burden of disease and shorter lives as a consequence. That make their lives distinctly more difficult, often more painful and tragic than lives of people in other parts of the world. Once again, where is the concentration shown in this map of high mortality rates of young children? In this particular map. What’s shown is the mortality of children under the age of five. For every 1,000 births, how many children won’t survive til their fifth birthday? What’s called the under five mortality rate. Once again we see that Africa is really the epicenter and tropical Africa is where the highest burdens of disease still reside. It’s a stark fact that even in countries where there’s a tremendous amount of economic progress, there can still be very significant pockets of poverty that are unrelieved. A lot of inequality, lack of social inclusion, and major gaps between rich and poor. And sometimes the starkness of that is right in front of our eyes as in the view of Rio de Janeiro that you’re looking at right now, where in the foreground, you see the low lying favelas, the slum areas of Rio. And in the background, of course, you see the, high rises, the, the modern, very high quality of life, of, the wealthier people of Rio de Janeiro. While there are some parts of the world where most of the population is poor. There are a number of countries that have reached what we call the middle income status. Countries like Brazil where there still are important pockets of poverty that need to be releived. As always with sustainable development, there’s hope. There are things that can be done to help people meet their basic needs, to help them overcome that daily struggle for survival. One of those opportunities that I find most exciting is shown here in this picture of this valiant young woman a community health worker. Working, with her backpack of medical supplies, to make sure that if an illness does strike one of those very poor, small holder farmers, one of their children, that there’s a cure, a remedy on the way.And through that we can extend the benefits of modern health and medical sciences to reach everyone in the world. Well, we’ve already noticed that the degree of poverty has a kind of geography to it. On this fascinating depiction of income on our globe, shown not as a maps, but as a globe where the height of each point on the globe measures the economic output of that point. You can see those startlingly high levels of GNP on the islands of Japan. You can see that in the east coast of Australia the very high levels of development shown by the markers, but you can also see the low lying areas in England, China, in India. And the point that I want to emphasize in looking at this alternative depiction, of the world economy, is that geography of wealth and poverty is complex. Not only broad regions. Say, Europe versus Africa. Or Japan versus India, show stark differences. But even regions within countries, the coastal areas versus the interior of countries show very, very big differences. When we analyze in depth the nature of extreme poverty, the causes of why it continues to this day even in a world of plenty. We’ll spend a lot of time looking at some of these geographic features. Is the county, or the, city on a coast where trade is easy? Is it in the interior where it might be more economically isolated? Is it in a good climate zone where food production is easy? Or it is, is it in a dry land region as we saw in Karo, Ethiopia where food production is a lot more difficult because of the low level and the instability of rainfall. Is it a healthy climate, where, disease burdens are naturally low? Or is it a place where killer diseases like malaria are more easily transmitted? Geography still today plays a big role in shaping wealth and poverty. By understanding the role of geography, we’ll make a big advance, not only in understanding why extreme poverty continues in a world of plenty, but what we can do about it.
Chapter 4: Environmental Threats
One of the most important messages of sustainable development is that we’ve become a threat to ourselves. Economic production has become so large, our productivity in many ways so high, and the numbers of us on the planet so vast, that the effect of all this economic activity on the physical Earth itself has become overwhelming. For the first time in human history, for the first time in the planet’s history, one species, that would be us human beings, are threatening the fundamental parts of the Earth’s own dynamics: the climate system, the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the ocean chemistry. Think about the basic arithmetic. There are 7.2 billion of us on the planet now. On average, each individual is producing around $12,000 of output per year, rough number, averaged over the whole year. But with 7.2 billion people, an average of $12,000 per person, it means that the world economy as a whole, has an output of between 80 and 90 trillion dollars per year. Many times larger than ever in the past and continuing to expand rapidly. And the result of all of that, in the water we are using, the energy that we are burning, the land that is being devoted to feeding the planet, the chemicals that are being produced, and the pollution that results from that poisoning the air and the waterways, it’s leading to an unprecedented environmental crisis. One of things that’s notable about this crisis, is that it’s felt by rich and poor alike. Have a look my own city, swimming for survival during this super storm that we experienced in October and November, 2012, what we called Hurricane Sandy. But halfway around the world the same year, Beijing experienced massive flooding. Or take a look at Bangkok, in the astounding floods of October, 2011: again a major world city underwater, deluged by unprecedented rains and as in all of these cases, a huge setback for the economy, loss of life, massive loss of property, billions or tens of billions of dollars of damage, and an unsettled global economy, because a disruption in one part of the world, in a world of interconnected production of supply chains that stretch across the world. Mean that a flood in Bangkok can disrupt automobile production, or computer production, all over the world, because of components or factories that can’t get to market during these disasters. The kinds of disasters that are being felt are varied, but what is clear, is that they’re rising in number. What we call hydrometeorological shocks or disasters: water, and weather related, whether it’s deluges, extreme storms, hurricanes and typhoons of, huge, impact, storm surges and floods, as swept over Manhattan or Beijing, or, Bangkok, massive droughts, droughts that lead to, the remarkable and shocking phenomenon you see here, of, terrible forest fires that spread across the American West in 2012. These kinds of varied storms, shocks, heat waves, droughts, floods have become the new normal for the world. In fact, it’s part of a world that is so new, and so tark that the scientists notably the geologists, have given our age even a new name. They call it the Anthropocene. A new word that comes from its Greek roots, anthropos and cene, anthropos meaning human Cene meaning epoch or age of the Earth. And what the scientists are telling us is that this is the human age of the planet. They don’t mean that in a good way. They mean it in it’s uniqueness and in a very dangerous way that humanity is changing the water cycle, the climate is warming the temperature is melting the glaciers is threatening the great ice sheets over Antarctica and Greenland, is causing the oceans to become more acidic, is threatening other species with survival in such a fundamental way that the planet behaves differently now, even from a geologic point of view, hence, the Anthropocene. One of the main drivers of these changes is humanity’s massive use of coal, oil, and natural gas, the three energy sources we call fossil fuels. When we burn coal, oil, and gas to move our cars, heat our buildings, drive our industrial production, produce electricity, we end up with carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. And carbon dioxide in the atmosphere changes the climate. This stark graph, which we will revisit, later on, shows the cycles of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, shown here, over the last 800,000 years. Well, by natural processes mainly changes of, the earth’s, orbit, and the effects that that produced, carbon dioxide in the Earth’s history has gone up and down in kind of a wave like manner. But look at the recent few years, the, the blink of an eye in terms of the Earth’s history. Carbon dioxide has suddenly soared to levels of 400 parts per million in of CO2 in the atmosphere, something not seen on the planet, not for 800,000 years, indeed not for 3,000,000 years. And this is causing massive disruption of the climate system, global warming, and more extreme events like droughts and floods. We’ll be talking a lot about this and what could be done about it. But it is a stark illustration of how humanity is changing the basic Earth processes. A group of scientists got together a few years ago. And noted that it’s not only the carbon dioxide in the air, but many other things that we’re doing. The way we’re using water the way that we’re putting nitrogen based fertilizers into the soil to help crop productivity. But putting it on in such large amounts that the nitrogen cycle, itself, is effected. The way that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere affects the ocean chemistry, making the ocean more acidic. The way we’re chopping down trees to make room for new pasture land and farmland. In other words, all the varied effects of a big crowded planet and a lot of economic activity, threatening the planet systems. And so this group of scientists said we are trespassing, boundaries that are safe for humanity. So these scientists said we need to identify the safe operating limits for the planet, we need to understand what those planetary boundaries are. And around the circle you see here is their visualization of those planetary boundaries. Have a close look: climate change, ocean acidification, ozone depletion, the nitrogen cycle, the phosphorous cycle, global fresh water use, changes in land use, loss of biodiversity, driving other species to extinction, that is, aerosol loading, the particles we’re putting into the atmosphere through industrial processes, and chemical pollution, poisoning air and waterways. These are planetary boundaries that we trespass at profound risk for ourselves and for our children. A core goal of the science of sustainable development is to understand these risks and most importantly to determine what we can do so that we stay within the safe operating limits of humanity, we honor and respect these planetary boundaries, as we continue to improve our well being. It’s the combination of economic prosperity, social inclusion, ending poverty, and ensuring environmental sustainability, that is the holistic objective of sustainable development.
Chapter 5: Business As Usual Versus Sustainable Development
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.