Opinions

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?

 

Bibliography

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.

Image150619160248

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!

 

Links:

  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