I’m sad to hear that the famous author Chinua Achebe has died- but writers, particularly ones who have such wide sociological impact as he, live on through the influence of their literature. ‘Things Fall Apart’, ‘Home and Exile’ and ‘Hope and Impediments’ are all great works that give an alternative perspective of Africa, and life generally, than the Eurocentric mindset that dominates western society.
Issues which are as relevant now, including to tackle ongoing challenges we face in areas such global poverty and environmental degradation, as when they were published.
Photo source and obituary via bbc.co.uk
This quote from Gustavo Petro, the Mayor of Bogotá in Colombia, has been popular on social media recently- and captures the essence of a pressing need for a change in our car-centric attitudes and approach to global urban mobility.
As I have alluded to in this previous post, vehicle emissions are a major contributor to air quality problems, and consequently a range of health issues, in urban centres across both developed, and developing, nations. Furthermore, road accidents are increasingly becoming one of the leading killers in developing countries, and globally it is an issue that particularly afflicts young people ’with road traffic injuries now the single biggest source of fatality among 10- to 24-year-olds worldwide’.
These issues (namely air quality and road deaths) are only a few of the wider negative externalities associated with global transport/mobility systems which have become increasingly based on motorised transport- and, in particular, individual car ownership and use which accounts for such a huge proportion of it. There are many others- carbon emissions, the social impact on cities and communities, security of supply of oil…
A shift from a situation where individuals rely on a motor vehicle, and the increasing costs and negative impacts that it entails (both borne individually, and by society more generally), to fulfil their basic lifestyle needs- to one where a fit-for-purpose public transport system (including, crucially, walking and cycling at its core) allows the vast majority of people to achieve their mobility requirements, is a universal need for all societies around the world.
There are a number of cross-cutting social and environmental risks that face urban areas around the world- and it is cities in the developing world that are likely to bear the greatest impact. Produced by the ‘Future Proofing Cities’ project, the above info-graphic highlights some of these risks- while the project’s website provides a number of other insightful resources and information on the topic.
‘Welcome to the Anthropocene’. As the Rio+20 summit draws to a close in Brazil- and with general opinions that the summit, while addressing a number of important environmental and social issues, has done little to push forward tangible commitments to tackling these problems- this video is a reminder of the major changes we have induced in our global environment over the last few decades. Rio+20 may not have not have spawned many definitive commitments to tackling these issues, and has undoubtedly been overshadowed by western leaders focus on financial issues at the G20 conference in Los Cabos, Mexico, in the days immediately prior to it.
However, I feel the important thing to remember is that the overarching focus of both of the summits, in Rio and Los Cabos, are/were not mutually exclusive- essentially with the common aims to shape how we, as a global society, can move forward in a manner that is fair, equitable, lawful, and sustainable. While we can get frustrated and disillusioned that these summits often seem to, in at least the eyes of the public and external groups, get bogged down in bureaucratic discussions and ‘non-commitments’- a process of discourse and dialogue is, unquestionably, a more favourable approach for such global ‘powers’ to settle their ‘differences of opinion’, compared to how they have done in our very recent human history…
Nonetheless, and as the video infers, our ongoing consumption of natural resources, and consequential degradation of the environment, will continue unabated (and increase) if we do not, as a global society, commit to wide-ranging programs of development and action that take them into account.
In the UK, and Europe generally, the 2 major wars of the last century have had a significant bearing on our recent history, development, and politics. In the UK we regularly refer, and pay homage, to the heroism and self-sacrifice of our country’s soldiers and citizens (and, more humanly, our parents/grandparents/great-grandparents) who fought, and were often killed, in those wars in order to preserve the freedoms and opportunities of future generations (i.e.- us). I think there’s an interesting parallel to these sentiments when considering the impending social and environmental consequences of our current actions as a global society.
Rather than fighting each other as individual, or alliances, of nations- the set of problems we face now is one that global society, collectively, has to resolve- and with the ‘opposition’ being its own cumulative behaviour and actions. Are we prepared to make decisions and choices (and maybe some sacrifices?) now to preserve and protect our environment, and everything that it provides us; or are we content to continue our profligate behaviour and activities that will reduce/deny these benefits to future generations (i.e. our children/grandchildren/great-grandchildren), and force them to bear the consequences and hardships of our procrastination and inaction?…
Give a man a fish…
The phrase ‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime’ is a familiar adage used to convey the longer term benefits achieved through knowledge sharing and education- compared to the short-termism of simple alms ‘giving’.
It’s a maxim that is used by charities and NGOs to support development programs that are not simply focused on providing short term aid, such as food and medical supplies, but to seek to improve and enhance the fundamental conditions that are often at the root of the need to provide aid in the first instance. This can be done by investing in and enhancing strong and resilient resources of built (e.g. technology and infrastructure), human (e.g. health and knowledge) and social (e.g. relationships and co-operation) capital- all of which contribute to the positive functioning of societies.
As such, wide scale knowledge sharing and education is at the crux of developing the human and social capital within societies- and ‘teaching a man how to catch a fish’ (rather than simply giving him one), will, in a the context of a society, instil the knowledge required for individuals to utilise and consume available natural capital (e.g. natural resources and ecological processes) to provide a community’s on-going fundamental practical needs.
However, with increasing pressures on, demands for, and consumption of, such natural capital (both in a local, and global sense) many of our learned (and increasingly industrialised) practices of how we ‘catch fish’ (both in a literal sense, and furthermore in relation to global resource consumption in general) are unsustainable- and are degrading these sources of natural capital on which we rely. From polluting, and inefficient utilisation, of our water supply; the removal of nutrients from soil; the elimination of natural pollinators; the over farming/fishing of food stocks leading to their collapse…. we are negatively impacting the planet’s capacity to provide us these goods and services it offers us for free- and on which we fundamentally rely for our survival.
This is not to say that we should stop consuming nature- I am no advocate of some kind of ‘environmental resource abstinence’- and that humanity should not benefit from what nature provides. It is, in fact, because I believe humanity- both those alive just now, and those who are to live in the future- should be allowed the opportunity to benefit from such goods and services provided by nature, that I support the notion that we should protect and conserve it.
How we deliver aid and international development, develop our national and international economies, run our businesses and corporations, control our communities and public services, and, fundamentally, live our individual lifestyles- will all contribute to the levels of natural capital available for our use. Establishing levels of sustainable consumption, as well as practices and behaviours to meet them, are in our interests now, and in the future.
It could be said that we need extend our understanding and application of the ‘fish adage’ to something along the lines:
‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime; implement sustainable fishing practices and you will allow him to feed himself, his family, his community, and his future generations for years to come’
Like all good sayings and maxims, this is relevant in a literal sense in relation to how one man consumes a fish, but furthermore true in a wider, more universal, context in relation to global economic, social and environmental development.