Feb.7th Sustain Cafe with Prof.Thomas Elmqvist

Site Administrator Sustain Cafe February 7, 2017


Urban areas as complex social-ecological-technological systems:

How do we address resilience and sustainability?

GPSS-GLI welcomed Thomas Elmqvist, a visiting professor at IR3S from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, for a memorable Sustain Cafe on February 7th, 2017.

Thomas began the session with the fact that 60% of urban infrastructures is yet to be built. Moreover, the 11th of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,” is one through which all of the other SDGs could be addressed. The emerging conceptualization of urban areas as social-ecological-technological systems integrates built and living systems in the city and has the potential to address these needs with nature-based approaches and more holistic, socially inclusive, and ecologically sound urban development.

The latter part of the lecture delved into his ongoing conceptual discussions of resilience and sustainability. Though often used interchangeably, “resilience” is a descriptive term, while “sustainability” is generally normative. Thomas made clear distinctions between these terms and shared his proposal of a new conceptualization of resilience more fitting for urban contexts. As both terms have been central to discussion in GPSS-GLI, the subsequent discussion was rich in thought-provoking questions, and sure to influence many of our thinking within our respective research projects.


Post 3/11: Health & Research in Fukushima

Site Administrator Sustain Cafe June 27, 2016




Last March 11 2011, a triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident struck Fukushima and ever since, the interest on health issues and research progress in the area has been growing. This July 7, three medical and research experts from the said prefecture were invited by the University of Tokyo’s Graduate Program on Sustainability Science to discuss these topics of interest.Dr. Akihiko Ozaki, a surgeon based in Minamisoma City, will will give an overview of health issues after Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident, and will present what we can learn from breast cancer cases in this disaster setting.Dr. Toyoaki Sawano, a training surgeon, will talk about health of decontamination workers in Fukushima- an extremely vulnerable population. Lastly, Ms. Claire Leppold, a researcher at Minamisoma Municipal General Hospital will present lessons learned from life in Fukushima and gives an overview of ongoing projects, closing with advice for students who want to become more involved in research.



health, research, fukushima, great east japan earthquake


Time and Place

July 7, 2016; 16:00-18:00 at 3rd floor lounge, Environmental Studies Building



The event is open to everyone.

Please register to attend the event!

Integrated Management of Urban Environment for Sustainable Development

Rene Castro Blog, Reports November 19, 2015

By: Bangkok Unit Team

The Global Field Exercise (GFE) we had in Bangkok was fruitful while fun at the same time. It was a two-week field exercise course for the graduate students of the University of Tokyo, Asian Institute of Technology, Chulalongkorn University, Thammasat University, and Mahidol University under the Interdisciplinary Consortium on Urban Environment and Health in Asia program (UEHAS) and Global Field Exercise (GFE) of Graduate Program in Sustainability Science Global Leadership Initiative (GPSS-GLI).

During the urban transition phase from developing countries to developed countries under democratic and rapid economic growth, cities are rapidly changing in terms of living standards, social behaviour and health. During this phase, the environment and human societies were made more susceptible to microbial and chemical hazards, as well as natural disasters. Hence, the management of the environment with a holistic view is needed for sustainable urban development. The objective of this two-week GFE is to let the participants learn about i) various environmental risks associated with urbanization and ii) environmental management in Bangkok through lectures and field visits.

Since we, the participants, were from different academic backgrounds, the lectures served as effective introduction to the whole field exercise since it ensured that we all had the same basic knowledge on the effects of urban environment to human health. The lectures also served as avenues for the student participants to ask pressing questions to government officials.

The field visits exposed us to different facilities involved in minimizing different forms of pollution. One was in an air emissions testing center where the laboratory rooms and a demonstration of how the testing is done on vehicles were shown. Another was in Dindaeng’s Wastewater Treatment Plant where the different stages of transforming water into a potable one were thoroughly explained to us. Last was in Nonthaburi’s Landfill Site where we got to see the vast area of land dumped openly with unsegregated trash in what was supposed to be a sanitary landfill.

After being equipped with theoretical and hands-on knowledge, we were given three days to conduct a small-scale research related to urban health. We were divided into four groups, which tackled various issues. This year, the final researches done were 1) Knowledge, Perception on Air Pollution and the Preventive Behaviors among Mobile Vehicles Drivers  in Bangkok, Thailand, 2) Assessing Knowledge on Urban Heat Island Phenomenon in Human Health in Bangkok, 3) Integrated Solid Waste Management of Nonthaburi Province, Thailand, 4) Assessment of Air pollution Caused by Boats in Saen Saep Canal. All of the groups performed questionnaire surveys as part of the methodology. This gave us the opportunity to interact with the locals and understand their plight better. We were then asked to present the results of our studies and our corresponding recommendations on the last day of the program.

All in all, the program was well organized. It made us interact and learn from the lecturers, key persons and from our co-participants as well. We also got to see how some environmental issues are being addressed with only band-aid solutions particularly in developing countries due to lack of technical know-how, capability and funding. Comprehensive systemic solutions are what they need so it would be best if more collaborations between different stakeholders and sectors would be promoted further. These countries could learn a lot from developed ones especially Japan since the country was plagued with environmental problems in the late 20th century due to rapid industrialization but has dramatically recovered since then.


In Search for Livelihood in Zhangye, the Silk Road Gatetown to China

Rene Castro Blog, Reports November 11, 2015


GPSS-GLI Oasis Unit seeks to understand how people in Zhangye, in Gansu Province of China, a region facing a severe water scarcity, observe the past five years in order to help the local policymakers evaluate their regulation.

The City of Zhangye, located on the southern edge of Gobi Desert, entirely depends for its water supply on Heihe River that carries snowmelt from Qilian Mountain to the South.

The City of Zhangye, located on the southern edge of Gobi Desert, entirely depends for its water supply on Heihe River that carries snowmelt from Qilian Mountain to the South.

Today, water scarcity attracts utmost attention worldwide. Lake Chad, located at the intersection between Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger, once posed a threat to the locals’ livelihood when its area shrank almost 95% over the latter half of the 20th century (though the situation has somehow improved to date). A similar threat has confronted people on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. There had not been a significant amount of rain in the State of California until the recent extreme flooding. Some hard measures, such as use restrictions, were taken to cope with the severe water scarcity. Across the Pacific Ocean, we also find societies in deserts and drylands which have been dealing with difficulties of the like. Zhangye City, Gansu Province in China, is one of them.

Figure 1: “Planetary Boundary” by Kate Raworth

Figure 1: “Planetary Boundary” by Kate Raworth

Efforts are being made to mitigate and adapt to the situation. Chinese authorities, both national and local, have five-year guidelines since 1953 (it was first called plans but recently is called guideline to reflect the country’s shift to a market economy). They describe the development goals to be achieved in the next five years, and 2015 is the last year of the 12th five-year guidelines. Zhangye’s 12th guideline outlines how the city will commit to developing its economy in an environmentally sustainable way. One of their goals is construction of the local ecology supported with monitoring and evaluating systems for various resources including the scarce water.

Coordinated by Heng Yi Teah, a doctoral student, a team of five graduate students from GPSS-GLI, with assistance from Professor Eiji Yamaji, Assistant Professor Tomohiro Akiyama and Academic Staffer Izumi Ikeda, visited Zhangye City seeking to help the local government assess their policy implementation. They tried to do so by informing the government how people in the city observe the local environmental and socio-economic changes in the past five years, and how these observations are related to the evaluation of the villagers’ own livelihoods. The students gained the information by interviewing farmers at more than twenty villages in Zhangye.

For identifying the environmental factors to ask questions about, the conceptual framework of planetary boundary (see Figure 1) was adopted. This famous framework was proposed by Kate Raworth who is known as a doughnut economist; her idea is that there are limits for resource exploitation and pollution (environmental ceiling) within which economic activities can be sustained, while there are minimum requirements for development to fulfill the basic human rights (social foundation).

Figure 2: Interview at Xiejiawan, a village north to Zhangye National Wetland Park

Figure 2: Interview at Xiejiawan, a village north to Zhangye National Wetland Park

Among the factors shown in Figure 1, the students chose the quality and quantity of available water (freshwater use), air quality (atmospheric aerosol loading), the use of pesticide/herbicide (nitrogen and phosphorus cycle & chemical pollution) and the area of wetland reclaimed from farmland (land use change) as the key variables to interview the farmers about.

The team spent five days to conduct interviews around Heihe River, the chief water source of the city. During the interviews, GPSS-GLI students were joined by Shengnan Zhou and Bingyu Wang, two local students at the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute (CAREERI) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), to make the conversations with the farmers smooth. From the upper to lower reaches of the river, the dominant landscape is cornfield. All houses in the farmlands are very similar, and oftentimes their outer walls are connected to one another. Around the entrance of each house are signs with Chinese letters, phrases showing wishes for peace and happiness (see Figure 2). All the houses visited were dwelled by friendly owners.

The results are still being analyzed and will shortly be reported.


In the front (from the left): Ricardo San Carlos, Shengnan Zhou (CAREERI), Sijia Zhao and Heng Yi Teah; In the Back: Norikazu Furukawa, Orlando Vargas Rayo, Tomohiro Akiyama, Izumi Ikeda and Bingyu Wang (CAREERI).

In the front (from the left): Ricardo San Carlos, Shengnan Zhou (CAREERI), Sijia Zhao and Heng Yi Teah;
In the Back: Norikazu Furukawa, Orlando Vargas Rayo, Tomohiro Akiyama, Izumi Ikeda and Bingyu Wang (CAREERI).

SOLAR SHARING IN JAPAN: Opportunities and Experiences

Rene Castro Blog, Reports July 30, 2015

By: Slavka Batorova (GPSS Alumni)

Our most plentiful renewable source of energy is the sun. Technology that harnesses this power – solar photovoltaics (PV) – has experienced a rapid worldwide growth, but this growth also exposed its drawbacks and raised new challenges.

A major drawback of solar PV systems is their significant land use. Large scale PV facilities are installed directly on the ground, including farmland. Unsurprisingly, paving farmland with solar panels has drawn criticism for curtailing food production potential and destroying landscapes and biodiversity. Until recently, the prevalent mindset was that a piece of land can be used either for food or for energy production, but not for both. This mindset was overturned by the Japanese invention of “solar sharing”, which made it possible to produce food and renewable energy on the same land at the same time.

Although invented a decade ago, solar sharing went almost unnoticed until the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011. The disaster changed Japan’s energy policy and led to greater focus on renewable energy. Japanese government introduced a renewable energy feed-in tariff (FIT) scheme in July 2012, which made it mandatory for electric power companies to buy electricity from renewable sources at fixed prices for 10-20 years.

Solar sharing is based on the fact that most plants do not need all the sunshine they receive in an open field. Everything beyond the plant’s light saturation point does not increase photosynthesis rate and can even be harmful (e.g. causing lack of moisture). If crops do not need all the sunlight, why not use the excess for power generation?

The first one to combine this fact with solar power generation was Akira Nagashima. He proposed solar sharing in 2004, patented his invention and made the patent free for public use in 2005.

I graduated from Sustainability science master course in 2010, so I do have some academic background in topics like renewable energy. I remember discussing many interesting sustainability related topics in the class, but looking back now, I must admit they were quite abstract terms to me at the time.

Building a solar sharing power plant – which I believe is part of a sustainable solution to some old problems – was an opportunity to experience the practical side of my theoretical background. It was a chance to see the connection between the macro- and the micro-world, between a technology, a national policy and the everyday life.

Our power plant would not exist without Mr. Nagashima’s invention of solar sharing, but just as importantly, it wouldn’t exist without Japan’s feed-in tariff scheme which made solar sharing not just a nice thing to do, but also an attractive investment and source of income. So availability of the right technology and the right policy led to our personal decision to invest our time and money into this and not something else.

People often see national policies as something distant and unrelated to their everyday lives, but every policy is implemented through concrete actions of individuals. Under the big national policy of promoting renewables through feed-in tariff scheme, we took very small, specific steps like dealing with real estate agents when looking for suitable land, submitting and resubmitting application for FIT accreditation, negotiations with solar installation companies for whom solar sharing was as new as it was for me, bringing cold drinks to construction workers to help them survive in the summer heat, waiting for TEPCO to get things done. All these steps were full of compromises when we had to choose from available options rather than from ideal options, but in the end they sum up to a power plant of 40 kilowatts that will once be counted in some ‘abstract’ national statistics on renewable energy. Plus we have a nice place with chickens and sometimes goats where neighbors often stop by for a chat.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 2.23.11 PMToday there are tens of solar sharing power plants in Japan. One of them is our power plant Oo in Tsukuba, Ibaraki prefecture. We (my husband Nobuo and I) built it last year and started raising free-range chickens under the panels this year. To the left is a photo of our chickens.



Why did we build a power plant?

I first learned about the concept of solar sharing in June 2013, when I visited a solar sharing project of Ken Matsuoka (in Tsukuba) who would later become – together with the inventor Mr. Nagashima – one of the pioneers of solar sharing. When I saw his plant, at that time under construction, I instantly became a fan. I realized that I just came across an epochal concept that could once change Japan’s agricultural and energy landscape.

I then visited the inventor Akira Nagashima at his trial site in Chiba prefecture and started English blog because there was no information on solar sharing in English at the time (today there are plenty of English articles). I gradually realized that rather than writing about others, I could build something myself. Nobuo, my husband, liked the idea as well, so we started together – the first step was finding suitable place – and our power plant Oo started producing electricity in November 2014. It will continue to sell electricity to TEPCO for the next 20 years. At an installed capacity of 40 kilowatts, it generates about 4500 – 5000 kilowatt hours of electricity per month, which is enough to cover demand of about 15-20 Japanese families.

In most solar sharing projects, the land under the panels is used to cultivate crops, but in our power plant we decided to raise free range chickens and sell eggs. Neither of us is a professional farmer so chickens are half for fun, half for business.

For more information check my blog:


So for me the lesson was that;

1) It is wise to be interested in government policies because they do have impact on our lives,

2) good policy makers make sure to go to the field and see how their policies are working with the “end-users”, because there are always things to improve.

Solar sharing power plant at Oo, Tsukuba, Japan. July 2015

Solar sharing power plant at Oo, Tsukuba, Japan. July 2015

How does it work?

Solar panels are installed on a frame about 3 meters above the ground. About two thirds of sunlight reaches the ground and the remaining one third hits the panels. Under the panels, crops can be cultivated or animals be raised. In this way, the same area is used simultaneously for both agriculture and electricity generation. Although the amount of electricity produced per square meter is lower in solar sharing than in ground-mounted installations, the fact that solar sharing unlocks vast areas of farmland for energy generation as a by-product of food production means a breakthrough increase in solar power potential.

Graph below shows that if solar sharing was installed on 20% of Japan’s farmland (with a shading rate of 25%), it could produce as much as 474.9 million megawatt hours of electricity annually. This is about 57 % of Japan’s total electricity demand in 2014.


Graph data sources: 

  1. 2014 Electricity Demand – The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan(FEPC)
  2. Cultivated acreage (data used to calculate solar sharing output): Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), Japan
  3. Solar power output and wind power output under feed-in tariff (FIT) scheme
  4.  Nuclear power – capacity and utilization rate (used to calculate hypothetical output) (All Japan’s nuclear reactors were shutdown at the time of writing this article). Japan Atomic Industrial Forum

※Calculation of hypothetical output is based on the capacity of 43 reactors classified “in operation” [operation suspended] as of July 15, 2015. Calculation takes into account a pre-Fukushima utilization rate of 70 % (February 2011). Current (July 2015) utilization rate of Japan’s nuclear power is 0 %.

Sustainable Equality: Solutions Addressing Economic Inequality

Rene Castro Blog, Opinions July 16, 2015

by: Angeli Guadalupe

A paper published recently by Oxfam entitled “Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More” shows that the richest 1 percent’s share of global wealth will increase to more than 50 percent in 2016. Members of this global elite had an average wealth of $2.7 million per adult in 2014. This is in stark contrast with the one billion people still living on less than $1.25-a-day. From this it is evident that the gap in wealth distribution is widening fast and action has to be taken soon.

In the World Economic Forum held last January, proposed solutions emphasize the need to change the business-as-usual scenario. Governmental and institutional solutions should be put in place. Tax avoidance by corporations and rich individuals should be targeted. Taxation should be shifted from labour and consumption towards capital and wealth. Limits on inheritance should also be imposed. Tycoons such as Warren Buffett have expressed their decisions not to leave their fortunes to their children. This would encourage their children to work as hard as other employees, thereby promoting meritocracy and not mediocrity. A lot of failures in large companies are done by incompetent heirs who don’t realize their privilege hence do not take their responsibility seriously. Another solution in redistributing wealth is giving more entitlements- both in terms of financial and social support- to the poor. Minimum wages set in countries should be implemented across industries, gender, race, age or whatever reason there may be. Governments should also think more systemically by investing in universal, free public services such as health and education for these directly improve human development. Poverty alleviation is sometimes mistaken for human development but the two are not the same and the former does not automatically lead to the latter. Some poor people spend their money on vices for example. Lastly, fixed budgets should be established for electoral campaigns. Nowadays, policies addressing inequality could not be pushed forward because politicians owe the elite who gave them financial support- the very same group of people who do not want their massive wealth to be touched, let alone be redistributed.

The aforementioned hard measures though should be complimented with soft measures in order to provide nudges that would prevent further inequality. One thing that should be inculcated within the minds of the elite is the reality that if wealth inequality would persist, political unrest would ensue- just like what Occupy Wall Street in 2011 had given the world a glimpse of. Hence, a horizontal agreement between the rich and poor should be attained as soon as possible.

Solutions towards this agreement should revolve around values formation, for without which established mechanisms would only last temporarily. One important value is the sense of noblesse oblige which is similar to the popular saying “to whom much is given, much is expected”. There are many institutions and individuals who can serve as role models. One of which is Mr. Dylan Wilk, who was once the ninth richest man in England but decided to give up his luxuries in order to have a more fulfilling life by working hands on for the Philippine-based non-government organization called Gawad Kalinga.

Role models like Mr. Wilk should be promoted more by media. Nowadays, what is being popularized are the lavish lifestyles of the elite in reality shows as if denoting that happiness could only be achieved from material possessions. The elite should be made to realize that partying is not fun without everyone in it, that living a lavish lifestyle is not righteous when you know there are people who can’t even afford a single meal in a day.

To implement solutions focusing on the elite only though would not be right. Thinking from a wider point of view, solutions should be as complex and dynamic as the issues involved. For this, the short-term solutions above would not suffice and it would be high time to start a movement that aims to change our neoliberal capitalistic market. One substitute getting popular these days is inclusive capitalism. Critics however point out that inclusive capitalism does not increase empowerment among the common people especially the poor. It may provide more wealth and opportunities for them but the mechanisms don’t enable them to be involved in negotiations and decision-making processes that affect their lives. For this, social democracy en route to democratic socialism is at present the best option. Though democratic socialism itself has many different definitions, it is generally described as a political ideology that combines a democratic political system with a socialist economic system. It pushes for more decentralization of opportunities, choices and power from the corporate elite to the working class. Its proposed solutions include, but are not limited to, worker-owned cooperatives, publicly owned enterprises, unions as well as government regulations and tax incentives that encourage companies to act in the public interest.

Apart from abolishing neoliberal capitalism, more proactive measures such as promotion of sustainability should be taken. Studies have shown that when poor people have increased finances, they tend to have higher standards in life with their wants increasing beyond their needs. With this foresight, education- both formal and informal- as well as values formation on sustainability should be adopted. People should realize that the planet could change without it waiting for us to adapt to its changes. It is us who will perish. People should realize that our power over nature has a limit. If we continue to think of economic development only, our environment would continually degrade. Hence, the issue of inequality has to be broadened beyond just economic inequality.

The Japanese have a term called “kizuna” to which the closest English translation would be human ties, bond or interlinkage. In a survey conducted after the Great East Japan Earthquake, this was one of the most popular terms. People expressed the need for “kizuna” in overcoming the grave impact of the disaster. Treating each other as equals so they could learn from each other and work towards a common goal made their efforts more efficient and effective. Today, they still continue to use the term in order to remind everyone of the importance of unity in solving community issues. “Kizuna” is also what we need in addressing inequality in this world that we live in.

The Aging Population Dilemma: Local Perspective to a Global Issue

Rene Castro Blog, Opinions July 8, 2015

by: Doreen Allasiw

Contrary to popular belief that aging population is solely the concern of developed countries, statistics show otherwise. At present, more than half of the world’s elderly (those 65+) reside in developing nations (59 percent, 249 million people). And this is even expected to increase up to 71 percent, or 689 million people, by 20301. At the moment, however, most advanced countries, including Japan and Western European nations, have the oldest population in the world.

So what do these facts tell us? I believe it is safe to say that regardless of economic standing no country is spared from this problem. It is also worth noting that the economic disparity between the developed and developing nations has never been greater. But if there’s something that we all share, it is the global problems that we face with climate change and the common goals that we strive for in humanity, such as sustainable development, resilient society and intergenerational equity.

Prior to studying Sustainability Science in Japan, ageing was an up-close and personal concern that I dealt with on a daily basis within my family. The Philippines, my home country, is known for its extended family system where the children continue to live with their parents even after they have a family of their own. Given such arrangement, caring for the elderly has never been a problem as there is no shortage of helping hands within the family. Sending grandparents to hospice care or elderly homes is a foreign concept to me, as families take care of each other.

Moreover, as a child, I have been taught to respect the elderly and to be of help to them whenever necessary. I am also a testament to how grandparents take care of their young grandchildren while parents go to work. In return, the family takes care of the grandparents during their twilight years. It is based on this experience that I see elderly care as a by-product of interplay between culture, moral responsibility and deep love for the family. It is very rare that elders are considered a burden, as the sense of responsibility for caring for them is deeply rooted in the family tradition of my country. Under these circumstances, it never occurred to me that aging would become a political and economic problem that plagues even the most advanced nations.

The opportunity of post-graduate studies, however, is providing me a glimpse of the bigger picture, of a more complex world than my own. From starting as one of the poorest countries in Asia, Japan managed to become the second largest economy in the world. However, in recent years, the Japanese economy has started to slow down and experts predict that it will continue to do so if certain problems associated with the burgeoning elderly population are not averted. In Japan, the elderly are expected to make up nearly 30 percent of the nation’s population by 2030 and one –third of the population by 2050. The implication is alarming and nation leaders bear the burden of allocating resources equitably between different age groups. A graying nation, falling population and a shrinking economy, Japan is on a race against time to minimize the impact of economic decline.

By now most of us would have realized that regardless if you are looking at a developing country like the Philippines or a developed nation such as Japan, the dilemma for the government will still be the same. Is it fair for the younger generation to bear the burden of supporting the old generation and do they have the resources and capacity to do so? But on the other hand, is it also fair to portray older people as a burden to the economy without recognizing that they paved the way for the development that the younger generation is enjoying? As we ponder on these questions, I would like us to remember, the future is in our hands, what are we going to do about it?



1 United Nations. 1999. The sex and age distribution of world populations (1998 revisions). New York: United Nations.

STOP DIGGING: Development in times of Climate Change

Rene Castro Blog, Opinions July 1, 2015
Words to actions - KAL

Words to actions – KAL

Since I can remember I have enjoyed friendly discussions and hearty debates on the “abstract” – the future, our human condition, why things occur in the way they do and what are our possibilities to change the flow of destiny if there is such a thing. Nevertheless, I have found through the passing of time that our discussions grow in complexity yet outcomes from these decrease in radically revolutionary results that will take us towards a more sustainable future. Many might say this is the natural state of things: wisdom, maturity, growth, security (short and stable steps produce better results). I will however, for the sake of this piece, propose otherwise. It is in that sense, I would like to begin from the very end of my elucubrations, and aim for a different outcome.

Be advised, this is a personal opinion, and will include a fair share of generalization which (hopefully) we know does not apply to every person, country, institution, policy, or aspect of life.

I have lost faith, lost hope. Our systems, our thought patterns, our desires for change have become obsolete. There is no one else to blame for this, than ourselves. It is we who decide the path of current and future generations, somehow assuming we know the best way to go. Yet we do so based on previously developed conceptions and misconceptions of life. Now, don’t get me wrong, history is of upmost relevance for the definition of a better future, for example, an adequate development plan should not repeat previous errors. My issue, however, is mostly with our approach to defining these strategies. We dare not move away from these pre-defined boundaries, be them mental, technological, emotional or physical.

And I repeat to myself again and again. I have lost hope… I have lost hope… I have lost hope…

Yet, still, I am here. Living, breathing, being, searching. So can hope in fact be lost? Or just misplaced in an entangled delusion we create only for ourselves of what our world, our lives are and can become? Our upbringing, our educational systems, our political agendas drive us into acceptable frames in which we can determine pathways for development that have proven successful to some extent.

Nevertheless, our measures of success are not adequately adapted to transformative periods. Let’s discuss, ever lightly as we may, development in times of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated “Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.” The report finally confirmed what we all knew: climate change is already upon us and even if we shift our paradigm from morning to night, its negative effects will continue for any measure of foreseeable future. The extent of the impact is, however, something we can vary.

It is at this point that I remember my undergrad education, and one particular marketing professor with whom I would have the most enriching discussions about markets and life in general. His advice to me, time and time again came from business theories and practices. He would say “The first step to getting out of a hole, is to stop digging!” Sometimes, in our aim for development we forget to stop in our path, reconsider, and adjust.

Rich in meaning as this phrase may be, I would like to take it from the philosophical to the literal and continue with our Climate Change discussions. Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems. –IPCC

Global anthropogenic CO2 emissions

We know greenhouse gases (GHG) are the main cause for global warming, and within the largest emitters we can identify the energy sector amounting for 47% of total anthropogenic emissions between 2000 – 2010. For the year 2010 it was a whopping 35% of emissions, the largest of any sector. Furthermore, it is the sector which is expected to see the most drastic change if we are to be able to reach an emissions scenario that will maintain us within “acceptable” global warming.

Yet, investments in research, development and implementation for low or zero carbon energy systems is far from sufficient and far away from becoming a priority in every nation. We understand that for it to be economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally relevant, measures must be undertaken in all areas, holistically. Yet, our own pre-determined boundaries refuse to make such development easily undertaken, or even thought of as an adequate alternative. For developing countries, where priorities are not on emissions, but on poverty, meaning providing an acceptable quality of life for their inhabitants, the only known path is one that is “rich” in carbon emissions, cheap energy and strong industry. Developed countries on the other hand, will not easily abandon their economic schemes dependent on coal, and oil (currently low priced and thus even more appealing).

However, according to IPPC “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.Using international standards for energy plant efficiency and emission factors I developed a very simple calculation as to how much CO2eq would various types of energies produce while generating electricity.

emissions by type

As we can see, the emissions from Diesel and Coal inch towards the limits of the graph whereas other energy types, especially the non-traditional renewable energies such as Wave, Wind, Solar and Biomass energies, produce little or no emissions at all.

So how about we stop digging, and understand that we need to shift towards a low carbon paradigm far away from fossil fuels and closer to mixed low carbon energy systems. That can become as robust and reliant as traditional ones with proper planning and prioritization. Let us move from our basic understanding and calculations of development to one that incorporates, mitigates, and adapts to climate change in such a way that we can effectively change the paradigm and provide a prosperous future for the generations to come.

We need then, to have determined people, making non-traditional public policy decisions. Let us break from the ties of our own minds and recover hope. Let us be more radical in our search for a sustainable development. Let’s be valiant pioneers!

If you are interested in reading more:

  1. The Emissions Gap Report, UNEP Synthesis Report 2014
  2. Climate Change, IPCC Synthesis Report 2014 (Source of graph on global anthropogenic COemissions)
  3. Anthropogenic Climate Change: Revisiting the Facts, Stefan Rahmstorf

Words to actions cartoon source: KAL’s cartoon, The Economist

What’s June 8th to you?

Aimee Mori Blog, Opinions June 24, 2015

Did you know that this past June 8th was World Oceans Day? The theme of World Ocean Day 2015 was “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet.” The focus of this year’s theme was to show how a healthy ocean is connected to a healthy planet and to encourage people to make small changes for the sake of protecting the planet.

As many people are unaware of this day, here is a splash of history on World Oceans Day:

World Oceans Day started back in 2002 in partnership with several organizations, including the World Ocean Network and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. In 2008, the United Nations officially recognized World Oceans Day.

World Oceans Day was founded to raise awareness to how oceans connect everybody in the world. Aims of World Ocean Day include changing perspectives of how people view the ocean and ocean conservation, teaching about the habitats and creatures of the ocean, inspiring people to change their behaviors to help the ocean, and celebrating the beauty and wonder of our oceans.

Now, having a single day out of the year to celebrate the ocean, which covers 71% of the earth’s surface and is essential for the survival of all mankind, is not enough.—especially when a large portion of the world population is unaware of the existence of the day to begin with. A day of announcing ocean trivia, sharing ocean photography, and highlighting dangers to the ocean is important to raising awareness, but not nearly enough to even begin to harpoon the complex set of issues and threats that the ocean faces.


Helping the ocean and all of its inhabitants requires great public support. International cooperation is necessary to untangle ocean protection from the net of political, economic, and religious issues. Celebration of oceans should not be confined to a single day, but should become an integrated aspect of our daily lives. What else produces half the oxygen we breathe, absorbs a third of the carbon dioxide we generate, and provides delicious nutritious fish?

Not only on World Ocean Day, but every day, remember to turn off your lights, take your own reusable bags when you go shopping, go for a nice bike ride instead of taking the bus once in a while, and try to eat only sustainable seafood, for the sake of our beautiful oceans. And don’t forget to go enjoy a dip in the big blue ocean!



  1. Warmer, lower-oxygen oceans will shift marine habitats
  2. Protecting Sharks in the Pacific
  3. El Niño revs up coral bleaching threat in the Caribbean
  4. Drive Fisheries: Capture, Results & Information

The Shifting Baseline Syndrome

Alexander Sjogren Blog, Opinions June 17, 2015

Yellow Indian grass and big bluestem grass in full autumn color contrast with cottonwood trees in thick fog. Morning fog is a frequent occurence in autumn on the prairie.

Did you have a place in nature where you used to go as a child? Maybe a meadow, a forest patch, a small creek? Did you return later in life only to find that this place has since become “developed”, as in covered by asphalt, drained of its water or replaced by buildings? If so, did it make you feel sad?

When I was say 9 years old, my family lived in a newly built chain house next to a vast grass field stretching down to the lake a few hundred meters away. To me that field, together with the lake, was “nature”. In retrospect the field was not very spectacular, mostly high grass, but I spent quite a bit of time there in the summers, catching grasshoppers. Until a construction company came along and started to cut the grass and turning the meadow into garden lots on our side, and asphalt and houses on the opposite. I am not sure from where I got the inspiration, but I dressed myself and my friends up in home-made bandit masks designed to look like cat faces and started raiding the area after dark; as far as we were concerned, the construction workers were “destroying nature” and we would valiantly stop them… mostly by cautiously toppling over stacks of boards at the construction site until we eventually were caught in action and ran home after me ensuring them they had not seen the last of “the Cat Gang”… As it turned out however, that was pretty much my whole career as an environmental activist…

That is however beside the point. The point is that I perceived environmental degradation through the loss of that field, that “nature” was being robbed of its true, original state, when in fact that field was most likely a pale shadow of whatever nature was there before it.

In his 1995 essay “Anecdotes and the shifting baseline syndrome of fisheries”, fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly presented the shifting baseline syndrome concept. He had observed that fishermen’s points of reference for a healthy ocean fish community was the one they had experienced as a child, and that they would bemoan the environmental degradation that had occurred since. The interesting part, however, was that depending on the age of the fisherman, these points of references would correspond to vastly different states of actual environmental health. To a young fisherman, the “pristine” condition of the ocean would be degraded relative to the condition the middle-aged man remembered, and the one he remembered would in turn be degraded compared to the one the old fisherman remembered. From this came Pauly´s understanding that our collective memory of what is a healthy environment is very short, and that for each generation, the point of reference for such an environment, the baseline, shifts along with progressing environmental degradation. In his own words: “We transform the world, but we don´t remember it.”

The shifting baseline syndrome

The Shifting Baseline Syndrome

The obvious problem this creates is of course that while we can observe environmental destruction as individuals in the short time frame, collectively, we are essentially blind to it on the longer scale, meaning that except for in the glaringly obvious cases where we do take note and conscious conservation measures are put in place, environmental degradation can go on quite undisturbed. The less obvious problem however has to do with conservation itself. As it turns out, not even the people studying and protecting nature for a living are immune to the shifting baseline syndrome, and the patches of natural environment they try to save will, even if theoretically successfully preserved, only be (like the word itself implies) a frozen image of an already severely degraded state of that environment; a state that might not even be self-sustaining but requiring continuous, costly human intervention to persist. In others words, as the baselines have been shifting for so long, the conservationists´ own personal baselines for conservation are often utterly unambitious.

This of course leads to the question; if our personal childhood memories of “untouched nature” are inadequate as reference points, is simply conserving what we have left at this point enough? If not, if we instead choose to reverse environmental destruction and instead restore ecosystems, to what state should we restore them? To the state they were before the postwar era of environmental destruction? To the state they were before the onset of the industrial revolution altogether? Or perhaps, even to the state they were before the onset of the agricultural revolution? In other words, where do we set the baseline? If we don´t set in anywhere, it will keep on shifting in favor of further environmental degradation.

I for one want to do something about this, and my gaze reaches far beyond the small field of my childhood and my futile attempts to save it. This time I know the pen is mightier than the sword, and I won´t be hiding behind a mask anymore…

For more info on the shifting baseline syndrome:

  1. Original paper by Daniel Pauly.  
  2. Excellent podcast dealing with the issue.  
  3. Daniel Pauly´s Ted Talk: 

Image Sources: Grass fieldsThe Shifting Baseline Syndrome