Sunday, September 6, 2015

Creating a sustainable future by educating the ones in power first?

 You can read the original publication on my LinkedIn profile.

Where do you begin when you want to talk about creating a sustainable future for everyone? One that involves applying the Doughnut strategy correctly and creating a fist of people that will strive towards a sustainable use of the planet’s resources, eradicating poverty and supplying social justice and a decent quality of life instead of going guns blazing with a new World War 3 being just a blink of an eye away from us?

The doughnut concept is fairly simple as a conception. There is the socially acceptable border, below which conditions are unacceptable for human beings and includes hunger, lack of water supply and sanitation etcetera and the environmental border, above which each and every available resource is stressed and leads to various catastrophic or irreversible actions. Between these two borders then lies the optimum spot for human and socio-economic growth, one that if achieved, humans will develop and prosper while caring for the environment as much as they do for each other and live a quality life.

I have seen a lot of things in my life. I have lived a life of deprivations, depression, civil war-like atmosphere and I can indeed tell you that when you live in conditions like these, when you cannot even cover the basics, you hardly care about the environment. You do not think about the environment. You just want water, you just want food. The only difference is that at that point you will not care about a fancy car or a private jet, or fancy clothes that were produced by hard-working underpaid children in a 3rd World country.

When you look at the articles, you see that they directly “blame” the lifestyle of the rich. And that is blatantly true to me. The real power lies in the rich and powerful people that influence decisions and have done so for centuries, maybe thousands of years. The truth is that with the global economic recession the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. There are too many factors affecting every decision that lie into politics and money, at least that is what I think.

Last semester I did a wonderful research paper regarding the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia. It was tied to the expansion of various coal factories especially in the dreaded Abbot Point. The Australian government and the local government of Queensland has identified all the risks and has confirmed the incredible degradation of the GBR through publishing extensive and really detailed reports that underline the problems and propose solutions. On the same time though, they allow actions like these to go through because the economy is so fragile, they need to keep people employed and create opportunities (and whether we like it or not, these expansions create jobs in an already stressed economy). And then most of the coal is exported to the world’s biggest coal user, China. In the end, politics and money talk. I would rather not talk about the tobacco industry as well; a simple YouTube video on Phillip Morris is enough to open your eyes.

So is everything grim? Nothing can be done?

There are always solutions. The world needs to be a fist and led by some exceptional and inspirational people, such as the water laureate winner of the World Water Week 2015 Rajendra Singh, who brought water and sanitation to so many people in India and dedicated his life to battling poverty and eradicating social injustice. I quote him because I had the honor to meet him and his wife personally when I was volunteering there.

So while the rich people are getting richer and have “nested” in the rich parts of the world what happens to that huge percentage that are underfed, have no clean water or sanitation and barely hang on life with prehistoric traditions afraid of change?

I agree with the articles I read that poverty must be eradicated in order to create a sustainable future for everyone. However nobody talked about how this can be achieved. From the World Water Week (WWW) I have learned some important lessons.

First of all, building trust and integrity and establishing a connection between people and governments is vital to the success of this project. If the people have no trust in their own government and their life is full of suspicion how can they embrace change and believe that these changes will lead to a better life? And on the other hand, if the people in power sever that trust by acting dishonorably with their own private agendas how can someone expect them to eradicate social injustice?

Secondly and most importantly, I think the most important thing is education. I cannot stress enough how important it is for people to be educated and undergo careful behavioral change. In order to promote sanitation for people in Africa (for example), one has to take into account behavioral change. People in Nigeria have always lived in the “wild” and it is imprinted for them to defecate in the open instead of a toilet in the house, because they have the behavior that “one does not defecate where he lives”. There is no international guideline that universally works. Cultural and behavioral differences MUST be taken into account when applying actions or making decisions.

Thankfully there are wonderful organizations such as NIRAS, WaterAid and NGO’s all over the world that promote this kind of change and this has brought education about WASH in both Africa and Asia to many poverty stricken countries where social injustice and disparities between the upper and lower class are of titanic proportions.

My next comment is on inequality. Wow where do you even begin on this one? The status of women varies immeasurably all over the world and it is pathetic and sad to see the state we live in while we are in the 21st century. Talking about salary differences between women and men is ridiculous at this point, but also not a topic that needs to be neglected. I have met and seen many powerful women that drive change and are a grace for society. We will get there one day. I trust in humans and looking back just 100 years can show the leaps we have made in progress. From black people considered slaves, to women not being able to drive or vote, I believe that together we can slowly progress and be a unified equal society one day.

But the most blatant and unacceptable issues persist in uneducated, illiterate areas or countries with deep traditions that really need to change if we are to live in the doughnut. Women being considered only breeding material, unable to express themselves or being god forbid stoned to death, pushed off rooftops, having arranged marriages and having no social status is completely unacceptable.

I also don’t like fanatics. People of both sides like pro-green or anti-green, extreme rights or extreme lefts. There is nothing wrong in having passion in what you do but there is a point where you take it too far and then you forget about dialogue and diplomatic solutions. For example I remember last year when Green Peace went into Peru to protest about the energy summit they destroyed the Nazca lines by mistake, a sacred piece of Peruvian history created over 1500-2000 years ago because they did not know yet they did it.

I could go on and on after all the things I read in these articles. Everything that the author said was correct and the doughnut appears to be a distant utopia right now. However I want to leave you all with a question. Since the rich have the power and should be the driving force behind this change that will create a sustainable future much talk has been done regarding educating the poor developing countries. Instead, who says that they are not that ones in need of education? Why don’t they or their governments or whomever is in charge freeze for a second and think:

“Wait a minute, I have the power, I try to promote sustainability and eradicate poverty and injustice, yet I eat more than I need to, I spend more than I need to, I waste food and energy and I do all these activities that stress the environment and our planet.”

Source: Ramsworth, Kate (2012), 'A Safe and Just Space for Humanity,' Oxfam Discussion Paper

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