As we get look ahead to 2023, sustainability takes center stage, yet again. Can we really achieve a sustainable future? Today, we posit that we can, if we are able to apply the equity and inclusion lens to the problem and bridge the Choice Chasm – the seemingly unbridgeable gap between the haves and the have-nots, between developed and developing nations, between incumbent practices and emerging norms.
Aftershocks from the Covid19 pandemic exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, combined with climate chaos made 2022 a chronicle of global challenges. These include the intermittent resurgence of Covid variants, the mental health epidemic, continued supply chain disruptions, internal displacement in Ukraine, worsening food crisis in the world’s most vulnerable regions, and a global energy crisis. By October 2022, weather disasters alone cost nearly 20,000 lives and 30 billion dollars, refocusing governments and organizations alike on sustainability.
On July 28, 2022, the General Assembly of the United Nations took a bold step in the ongoing process of caring for the creation we have inherited. By an overwhelming vote of 161 – 0, with eight member nations abstaining, the General Assembly approved a resolution which establishes a sustainable and healthy environment as a basic, universal right of all people. Over one hundred nations co-sponsored this resolution. The large co-sponsorship (unfortunately, the United States was not a co-sponsor) testifies to the strong support for this resolution among the UN delegates and their national governments.
Because a livable human context is absolutely central to the continuing viability of creational life on our planet the United Nations’ vote placed this right at the core of our understanding of the longstanding human rights tradition, which includes social/political values such as freedom. This newly affirmed right is seen as standing at the very heart of that tradition. Its recognition and enhancement are not marginal but integral to the maintenance of the entirety of humanity and the universe with which we are intertwined.
Editor’s note: Written 8 years ago but timely as ever.
Environmentalists may not be happy with some of the solutions to climate change. In a recent article in Wired Magazine, “Inconvenient Truths: Get Ready to Rethink What It Means to Be Green”, the top 10 ways to save the planet are likely to drive environmentalists crazy. Calling for Greens to unite around the issue of greenhouse gasses, the article makes the case for public policies that favor nuclear energy and urban density. The outcry from readers was memorable as they criticized the single mindedness of the article, its lack of supporting data, its in-your-face sensationalism, and overall creepiness. Yet, the discussion of climate change and public policy does and should raise these most difficult issues as new reports show irreversible damage.
The topic of environmental justice (EJ) has become popular. We find it expressed in President Biden’s equity program, for example. I’ve been working with a group of advocates on the topic for about twelve years. Before that I helped write one of the first EJ programs for a federal agency while at the US Department of Transportation in the late 1980’s. At the time I knew nothing about the issue. I mentioned my ignorance to Bob Bullard, one of the fathers of the concept. He told me to read his books. Now I’ve become an expert, with books and essays, including one on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.
EJ has been overtaken by events, and today is sometimes called “environmental racism.” We now recognize the climate as a problem, and not as benign Mother Nature. EJ is the confluence of environmental issues with civil rights, resulting in health disparities for many people of color and low income people. They tend to live in lower marshy areas that are more subject to ocean level rise, flooding, and extreme storms. Even today, many lack air conditioning and are therefore more endangered by extreme heat. Many farmworkers live in rural towns in the West under extreme drought conditions. African-Americans own cars at the lowest level of any demographic group in the United States, and hence can’t escape in an evacuation order. Many African-Americans in Southern and Border states live near hog and chicken waste ponds and power stations and dumps that spew noxious fumes.
I’ve always included articles on the environment in the 15 years of the American Diversity Report. When I considered doing an article on the iconic Greenpeace movement which started much of our environmental activism, I thought it would be an intellectual and historical project. But, my 93-year old Aunt Polly informed that Green-ness runs in the family,. Greenpeace is just a cousin away, including one of the movement’s matriarchs.
The Chicago Council of Global Affairs brought 51 mayors & staff to Chicago to develop a flexible mayoral covenant on climate change within North America. The session in which I was a participant was led by the mayors of Chicago, Vancouver,Montreal, Washington and a modest size city of 150,000 in Mexico. NY TIMES writer Thomas Friedman chaired this session.
Allow me now to share some of the important points that arose from the discussion.
Refugee International reported a few years ago that a Kiribatian man tried to convince a New Zealand court to make him the world’s first climate change refugee. Kiribati is an impoverished group of Pacific islands vulnerable to rising sea levels. He didn’t succeed, but many experts predict a growing number of displaced people seeking asylum because of global warming. The planet has limited drinkable water, fertile land, clean air, and food. The planet’s current supplies are steadily shrinking.
The term ‘green city’ or ‘sustainable city’ to many in the developing world is merely rhetoric of the affluent. The focus is often directed at exploiting our natural resource, creating more jobs, driving out extreme poverty, and improving standards of living of the masses with little concern for the environment. It’s not surprising that developing countries often battle International Environmental Agreements (IEAs) for special waivers when it comes to their implementations.
The premise that economic progress and environmental welfare are inversely related, at least during the initial stages of development, is being held by many policymakers in developing countries. Scientific hypotheses such as the Environmental Cruznes curve postulate a U-shape relationship between environmental welfare and economic growth: environmental damages increase in the initial stages of per capita income growth, attains stability and then starts declining. These ideas help explain why the concept of green cities is less appealing in the developing world. Therefore, there should be an in-depth probe to find out whether the ‘green city’ concept hinders economic progress.
A Study by The Centre for Environmental Research and Policy Analysis (CERPA)
The Ghana Environmental Concern Meter (GECM) is a scientific and objective assessment of public concerns on various environmental issues and challenges affecting the lives of the Ghanaian people. It is also a detective and reporting tool for environmental problems in communities in Ghana. Further, the GECM seeks to bring these environmental problems to the knowledge of the public to encourage self-help, responsibility, and environmental ownership among the Ghanaian people.
We live in rapidly evolving societies, so why doesn’t our environmental sensitization adapt/conform to these changes?’’
Williams S. Anarfi explains – environmental education is becoming increasingly important as our lives, cities and priorities change. As our cities become more congested and busy, knowledge of the impact we each have on our surroundings becomes more and more crucial. Equally important however, is our understanding of how we can contribute to protecting the environment around us.