Saving money on energy bills and such should be seen really as a benefit of a lifestyle that values and appreciates what the environment offers. The Green Blog excellently provides a sense of perspective and understanding about the relationship between consumers and the regulations that monitor and govern their surroundings. There is also a noticeable push here to shed light on the pros of ecosocialism and to motivate readers to fight CO2 emissisions near them.
UN warns the world could face a catastrophic global water crisis by 2030
In just 15 years the world could suffer a catastrophic global water crisis, the United Nations (UN) warn in its annual World Water Development Report. The UN report forecasts that global water demand will increase by 55 percent by 2050. If current trends of water usage continues the world could suffer a 40 percent shortfall in water supply as early as by 2030 – which could potentially have catastrophic consequences.Groundwater supplies are quickly diminishing and the report estimates that 20 percent of the world’s aquifers are currently over-exploited. There is an urgent need to manage water more sustainably, the UN report concludes. If we fail to do this, the competition for water will increase and lead to “significant impacts” on both the economy and human well-being. It will also increase the risk of conflicts, the UN report warns.Safe drinking water supplies will continue to dwindle as long as water pollution continues to be ignored and go unpunished by local authorities, and water use remains wasteful and unregulated, as it unfortunately does in many nations, the UN says in its report. In order to mitigate this water crisis, the UN is urging politicians, communities and industries to rethink its water policies and to make a greater effort to conserve water.The 55 percent increase in water demand is mainly due to growing demands from manufacturing, thermal electricity generation and domestic use. But due to increasing population numbers and consumption levels, agriculture will also need to substantially increase its food productions to keep up with demand – and this will in turn increase water usage.“By 2050, agriculture will need to produce 60 percent more food globally, and 100 percent more in developing countries […] global water demand for the manufacturing industry is expected to increase by 400 percent from 2000 to 2050, leading all other sectors, with the bulk of this increase occurring in emerging economies and developing countries,” the UN report said. “Unless the balance between demand and finite supplies is restored, the world will face an increasingly severe global water deficit.” Considering that current demands for water in the agriculture sector is already unsustainable, this will be a difficult task. The agriculture sector must increase its water use efficiency by reducing water losses in the production process, and to “increase crop productivity with respect to water” availability and demand, the report says.The UN report also points to two worrying global trends that are converging: climate change and growing economic development in poor developing countries. This convergence will especially “intensify the water insecurity of poor and marginalized people in low income countries.”“Water resources are a key element in policies to combat poverty, but are sometimes themselves threatened by development,” said UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova. “Water directly influences our future, so we need to change the way we assess, manage and use this resource in the face of ever-rising demand and the over exploitation of our groundwater reserves.”
Can the Gates Foundation be convinced to dump fossil fuels?
This week, The Guardian newspaper has campaigned for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to divest its fossil fuel investments – which the newspaper claims are worth US$1.4 billion.The foundation can and should address the climate crisis, particularly given the threat it poses to food security, public health, human rights, and the development agenda.Practical responsesThe Gates Foundation has made a significant contribution to practical responses to poverty, and Bill Gates has been a long-standing advocate of “creative capitalism” to address global development issues.To their credit, Bill and Melinda Gates have shown great personal engagement with larger questions about human development, and their foundation has been a significant actor in the fields of agriculture, global health, education, and population.Bill Gates during a 2013 speech on climate change. Photo: Matthew Rimmer.Yet it has also been reluctant to address the climate question directly, stating:"The foundation believes that climate change is a major issue facing all of us, particularly poor people in developing countries, and we applaud the work that others are doing to help find solutions in this area," and:"While we do not fund efforts specifically aimed at reducing carbon emissions, many of our global health and development grants directly address problems that climate change creates or exacerbates."Sign on climate change at the Gates Foundation. Photo: Matthew Rimmer.For instance, the foundation highlights its agricultural development initiative, which it says will “help small farmers who live on less than $1 per day adapt to increased drought and flooding through the development of drought and flood resistant crops, improved irrigation efficiency, and other means”.While this certainly involves indirectly responding to climate change, it doesn’t put the issue of preventing climate change at the heart of the issue.In his annual letter, Bill Gates noted:"It is fair to ask whether the progress we’re predicting will be stifled by climate change… The most dramatic problems caused by climate change are more than 15 years away, but the long-term threat is so serious that the world needs to move much more aggressively — right now — to develop energy sources that are cheaper, can deliver on demand, and emit zero carbon dioxide."This is a somewhat curious statement, given the real and present danger already posed to food security, biodiversity, public health, and human security.The energy questionBill Gates has another keen interest: energy security. He has discussed what he sees as the need for an “energy miracle” to remedy the climate:"To have the kind of reliable energy we expect, and to have it be cheaper and zero carbon, we need to pursue every available path to achieve a really big breakthrough."He seems to have been interested in nuclear power, carbon capture, and geo-engineering - rather than renewable energy.For her part, Melinda Gates has been highly critical of climate deniers, emphasising the need for politicians to heed climate science.The Naomi Klein factorSee video: This Changes Everything - Naomi KleinIn a 2013 article in the Nation, the writer Naomi Klein expressed concerns about the huge fossil fuel holdings of some charities, including the Gates Foundation, and argued that this was inconsistent with public health goals:"A top priority of the Gates Foundation has been supporting malaria research, a disease intimately linked to climate… Does it really make sense to fight malaria while fueling one of the reasons it may be spreading more ferociously in some areas?"In her 2014 book, This Changes Everything, she went on to criticise the efforts of green billionaires to save us from climate change. Of Bill Gates and his foundation, she wrote:"Though he professes great concern about climate change, the Gates Foundation had at least $1.2 billion invested in just two oil giants, BP and ExxonMobil, as of December 2013, and those are only the beginning of his fossil fuel holdings."Gates has been directly questioned on this issue, both in an interview with a Dutch journalist and during a 2013 appearance on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Q&A program.See video: Bill Gates on ABC’s Q&AKlein has also criticised Bill Gates' technocratic approach to the climate crisis, considering him to be overly dismissive of renewable energy:"When Gates had his climate change epiphany, he too immediately raced to the prospect of a silver-bullet techno-fix in the future - without pausing to consider viable - if economically challenging - responses in the here and now."Will The Guardian’s campaign succeed?The Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger has pledged to put climate change at the “front and centre” of the newspaper’s coverage, lending support to the global divestment movement and urging philanthropic trusts like the Gates Foundation and Britain’s Wellcome Trust to follow the example of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.See video: Keep It In The GroundThe Guardian said it recognised that the Gates Foundation has made “a huge contribution to human progress and equality by supporting scientific research and development projects”, but warned that “investments in fossil fuels are putting this progress at great risk, by undermining your long term ambitions.”The campaign urges the Gates Foundation “to commit now to divesting from the top 200 fossil fuel companies within five years and to immediately freeze any new investments in those companies”. Rusbridger wrote that this would be “a small but crucial step in the economic transition away from a global economy run on fossil fuels”.Hopefully, the campaign will be successful. Bill and Melinda Gates have certainly shown a willingness in the past to revise their approach, in light of new evidence, and both have been disturbed by the politics of climate denial.The Gates Foundation can make a stronger contribution to the battle against climate change, especially given how the climate issue cuts across its food security, public health, and human rights aims. This is one way it can do so.
China’s ‘Silent Spring’ has many more political hurdles to jump
Under the Dome, the self-funded documentary by former television news anchor Chai Jing about China’s battles with smog, has been an internet phenomenon. Within three days of its release on Febuary 28, it had racked up more than 150 million views and garnered 280 million posts on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.Then the Chinese government removed it from the web, stung by the criticism the film prompted, leaving those who had hailed it as a landmark moment in Chinese environmentalism wondering if the documentary’s influence would end up being curtailed.Seemingly inspired by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Chai Jing presents some shocking facts to her audience in a TED Talk-style format. She documents the health implications of smog, such as its possible relationship with lung cancer, and attributes China’s smog pollution to factors including the consumption of low-grade coal and oil, the expansion of energy-intensive industries like steel, and the lack of enforcement of environmental regulations.Former celebrity TV anchor Chai Jing, as seen in the photo, quit her job after her baby daughter was born with a lung tumor, and after a year of rigorous investigation, launched a 1 hour 40 minute documentary about China’s smog.A wake-up call?Under the Dome invites comparison with Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s 1962 exposé of the effects of pesticides, and some commentators have predicted that the documentary will galvanise China in much the same way that Carson’s book changed America.There are indeed striking similarities between the two. Both focus on environmental issues of huge concern to their respective societies; both were made by women with national reputations for their previous work; and both spurred unprecedented national discussions.Even China’s newly appointed environment minister Chen Jining said he was reminded of Silent Spring when watching Under the Dome – although that was before the government abruptly changed its mind about the documentary.For all their similarities, there are still many hurdles facing the documentary that Carson’s book did not experience.The social contextChina is undergoing significant social change, with a growing middle class who are more concerned with quality of life than basic needs, and who are willing to raise their voice over issues that affect their health. This is a similar context to the postwar America in which Silent Spring was published.Yet today’s world is also more globalised than in 1962, a fact that could have two opposite effects on China’s environmental movement.On one hand, the potential solutions to global issues such as climate change, and local issues such as air pollution, may feed into each other. As my colleague and I have argued, concern over China’s energy security has become a key driver of its renewable energy industry.But on the other hand, globalisation has made people more mobile, both within and between countries. Migration has become an option for some Chinese to escape the smog, which might reduce their motivation to engage in the local environmental movement.Differing political climatesIn many ways, the reception given to Under the Dome is broadly similar to that received by Silent Spring. Both were challenged by economic interests, such as the chemical industry in the case of pesticides, and fossil fuel firms in the case of smog. Both were also criticised for a perceived lack of “balance” or author expertise, and were even accused of being political conspiracies.Both were also praised by the scientific community. Silent Spring’s legacy was honoured by the American Chemical Society in 2012, while a Chinese professor blogged about Under the Dome:… [compared with Chai Jing] we experts in the field of environmental protection and scientists on the smog research should feel ashamed for our incompetence to communicate with the public and our lack of courage to expose the problem.But perhaps the most important difference is in how the two respective governments reacted, especially given that both the book and the documentary broadly chimed with what authorities were trying to do at the time. Silent Spring was published when the then US president John F. Kennedy was implementing his New Frontier program, and Under the Dome has arrived while the Chinese leadership is commmitting to an “energy revolution”.Several key ideas advocated in Under the Dome to fight smog are aligned with the government’s agenda, such as reducing the share of fossil fuels in the country’s energy supply, and increasing the share of renewable energy sources.This may partly explain why the documentary was first released on the website of People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, and why the resulting media and online criticisms of the government’s handling of the smog issue were initially tolerated despite such comments usually being closely monitored and censored by the state.However, after a week of explosive discussion in the public sphere, the documentary was taken down from all Chinese websites. While the smog issue was a topic of frequent discussion during the annual session of the National People’s Congress, held in this same week, Chai Jing and her documentary were rarely mentioned by any representatives or government officials.Contrast that with the policy response triggered by Silent Spring, including the appointment of the President’s Science Advisory Committee, hearings on the issue in the Senate, and the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency.The Chinese government seems to fear that grassroots movements may undermine its legitimacy in ruling the country. It has implemented a range of policies to transform China’s energy system, but the effectiveness of those policies are yet to be seen.The legacy of Silent Spring is beyond question. Whether Under the Dome gets the chance to have a similarly lasting impact is far from clear.
- Mar 24, 2015 Can the Gates Foundation be convinced to dump fossil fuels?
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- Mar 19, 2015 China’s ‘Silent Spring’ has many more political hurdles to jump
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