Sunday, 12 October 2014

Plea for clearer thinking on the population vs environment issue

Classified as: reflective journal - discourse analysis, evidence

(This is a cut and paste of a comment I just made at The Conversation, in response to this article.)

No offence to Professor Beeson, but I would really like to put in a plea for a better quality of debate about this. There are two key facts everyone should look at before talking [about population vs environment]: what's the fertility rate of a country? and, what's the emissions rate per capita of a country?
You can get it from Wikepedia, I guess it's reasonably reliable. Anyway if you look at that, you will see, for example:
  • Many wealthy countries, like Australia, have fertility rates below replacement rate (Aust is 1.77 per women, replacement is c. 2.1), but very high emissions rates per capita (Aust 18.8 t CO2e)
  • Many poor countries, like Afghanistan, have very high fertility rates (5.43), but very low emissions rates (0.29).

So while both issues are important, reducing our emissions rates is proportionately more important for the environment. And the big question is, how do you simultaneously lower emissions (particularly in rich high emissions countries) while raising living standards and the status of women in poor countries like Afghanistan?
Indonesia is an example of a country that seems to doing well - they have got their fertility rate down to 2.18, while CO2e per head is 1.8 t CO2e. India is also making a lot of progress, fertility down to 2.51 (from very high not long ago), CO2e per head 1.67t.
Almost no wealthy country seems to have low per capita emissions. Singapore looks the best with 2.67 t CO2e, and their fertility rate is apparently an amazingly low 0.8, so their total emissions look set to decline really rapidly as their population falls.
Obviously there are some examples worth looking at. Not sure how reliable Wikipedia is on all this, but it's very interesting. Maybe I should write an article on this! I get so frustrated by people over-simplifying the issue.
(I fell asleep very early, and woke up in the middle of the night, and have been browsing the net and looking up things on Wikipedia, especially here and here. This issue has been bugging me a bit, especially since I heard some similar claims at the Climate Action Summit - arguments made without any clarity about where fertility rates are high and where emissions rates are high. As I've suggested above, there seems to be an inverse relationship in general. Will try to do some more checking on this from original figures and update the post if needed, but just wanted to get something down on this).

Monday, 29 September 2014

Different responses to climate change

 classified as: reflective journal - discourse

The presentations from the Australian Climate Action Summit that I attended recently aren't up on the website, and I'm not sure if they all will be put up, but I want to put down some quick impressions I had of the summit. In particular, I was very interested in a difference between what I'm thinking of as 'technology can get us there, with a bit of political will' approach, and a 'we have to change the way we live, starting from the local level' approach.

As I said, presentations aren't up, so this is really impressionistic and going on memory, and I apologise to anyone I might be misrepresenting. However this was a difference that really struck me.

technology can get us there, with a bit of political will

This seems to be exemplified by speakers such as Dr Stephen Bygrave, from Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE). BZE is putting out a number of reports on different sectors, such as energy, transport and land use. Although the land use one may contain recommendations that involve substantial change to our way of life (apparently it may be quite controversial), Stephen's talk seemed to suggest we can reach zero emissions by serious investment in the right technologies such as solar or wind power, fast trains, and so on.

John Quiggin (not at the Climate Summit, but in a recent post at his blog), seems to be following a similar line: serious investment in the right technologies, plus some political will (such as regulation and carbon pricing), can keep us below the 2C level of climate change. He mentioned a number of reports recently supporting this view.

Now I haven't read all the reports in either case, so I'm going on summaries, in the latter case second hand. But I was struck by the tone of these views, as compared to the other approach I perceived:

we have to change the way we live, starting from the local level

This was illustrated in a very appealing way by Morag Gamble from Seed International. Morag talked about her garden and how it supplies all her family's food - plus she was able to give away 10,000 plants last year. She and her partner have achieved sustainable living in an eco-village, with $0 power bill and no mortgage.

Other speakers, such as Nicole Foss, focused more on the instability of the current system (particularly the financial system) and resource constraints for technology development, as predicted many years ago in Limits to Growth. Nicole, however, is also a permaculture advocate, with a focus on sustainable homes and communities.

As readers of this blog will know, the projects I've been looking at in my research tend towards the latter approach. They are local projects, with a focus on promoting community development and social inclusion as well as environmental sustainability or climate change adaptation. That's partly because health promotion in Victoria generally focuses on local projects, but also I think relates to some deeper questions I outlined in my previous post. Can we - or do we want to - continue with our big, hierarchical, unequal organisations, and still achieve sustainable living? Or do we need to live differently, in terms of more equal social organisation, as well as the different technology we use?

You may also note that there is a gender difference above: men presenting the first approach, and women the latter. I don't think that's purely random, nor the result me being selective in whom I chose to illustrate the approaches. I haven't formally researched whether the first approach is advocated more by men, and the latter by women - and within the scope of my current research, won't be able to - but I think it is a valid research question. If only I had more time! 

Finally - this should be obvious, but I know people don't always read carefully - nobody being discussed here is a climate change denier, and all their views are worth considering. Maybe both approaches can be combined in practice (to a degree?), but I think there is a lot of useful dialogue that could happen here.

Monday, 22 September 2014

My five minutes of fame at the Climate Action Summitt

Classified as: project update - theory
   - revisited
This was the first slide of my snapshot presentation at the Climate Action Summit in Brisbane on Sunday (21 September 2014). Here's the presentation below (slightly longer than the actual one):
I'm not really trying to rewrite Tolstoy's magnum opus, just wanted a better title because my original one was definitely not catchy. There is some link to war and peace in this talk, but I'd certainly better not be as long-winded as Tolstoy because I've only got five minutes.
This is the original title:

The summit theme that my talk falls under is 'having difficult conversations' and it's certainly hard to put that in plain language. I'm not talking so much about action, as about ideas.
This is about the conflict between two ways of understanding the world and society: one that we have inherited; and the other a way that many people are trying to use in environmental projects.

I'm doing participatory research with people who are working to promote health, social justice and environmental sustainability (more information here).

These people are working mainly in the second way, aiming to be inclusive and to build socially just and sustainable communities. The organisations they are employed in, and the funding and administrative arrangements affecting their work, however, still reflect the first approach. My research suggests this causes significant tension.

[The origin of politics is competition over]
women, cattle, slaves [and] scarce land
"Like all the political institutions historically preceding it, the state is a relation of men dominating men, a relation supported by means of legitimate (ie considered to be legitimate) violence"
Max Weber 1918  (Weber, Gerth et al, 1991: 165, 78).
Max Weber is generally regarded as one of the 'great thinkers' of the twentieth century. Here, he is expressing a patriarchal view of the world, naturalised as the way the world 'is'.  The assumption is that we (or at least men) are naturally competitive, violent and out for what we can get. This seems to be still a widespread assumption, even though it conflicts with much of our day to day experience.

This is my attempt to show this worldview graphically. It shows a relatively small number of hierarchical organisations (states, in Weber's view, but they could also be other organisations, particularly corporations), which are seen as controlling a much larger passive sphere, including women (as sexual partners, mothers and carers), subordinate and Indigenous peoples, other species and the biosphere.

In this view, most of what matters (politics, history and so on) is seen as occurring between or within the hierarchies, as competition and conflict between states or organisations, or between the different levels within them.

This view is not historically founded. Gerda Lerner (1986) for example, found that patriarchy in the middle east only arose in the last few thousand years. Carolyn Merchant (1989) further suggests that it was as recently as 1500-1700 AD that a mechanistic approach to the natural world as something that could be controlled became dominant.
So this view of the world does not describe the way we 'are', but rather a particular historical epoch. It is, however, the approach that has led to our current ecological crisis.
It's interesting that at this summit we are meeting on Indigenous women's traditional land (as local elder, Uncle Joe Kirk explained to us on the first day of the summit). This in itself shows that women in Indigenous society - which has lasted over 60 thousand years - were not regarded as possessions in the way that they were, for example, in English law until very recent times.
An example of one of the key achievements of the competitive, hierarchical states that Weber described is this: a drone, a hugely expensive technical achievement, representing billions of dollars worth of investment in resources and time, designed to destroy.

Whereas what our lives really rely on is much more like this:

(it's a ladybird)

Plants, flowers, tiny creatures like ladybirds and bees - what Terry MacBride (a previous presenter) described as the "free services of nature" - that's what our continued existence relies on. 

Rather than being in control of them, we are actually dependent on them.

From both my research and my lived experience, it seems clear to me that the approach we need to address climate change will not be produced by the hierarchical, top down, unequal organisations that are dominant in society today - but rather by an approach like this:

These "Team Earth" posters were of course produced in response to Tony Abbott's "Team Australia". The posters express to me the values we really need to address climate change: a recognition that we're all in it together, and an inclusive approach.
It's similar to what Terry Lane (an earlier presenter) spoke about in the Indi campaign: "being our best selves".

Climate change is a global problem. We have to tackle it together.

But as well as being a way to tackle climate change, I suggest it's also a way to go beyond climate change and live in sustainable communities - communities  that are flatter, networked, egalitarian and inclusive, and recognise themselves as part of an ecosystem.

The theme of the summit my talk falls under is "Let's Talk": having difficult conversations. And this is certainly a difficult and perhaps, idealistic or unrealistic sounding, talk. I'm aware, for example, that I'm talking about getting rid of large hierarchies while standing in a university (and doing research in another one), at a time when universities are becoming ever larger, more corporate and more unequal.  But we have to at least start thinking about ideas if we want to see change, so what I'm saying is that these big, unequal, hierarchical organisations are not the best way to organise ourselves - there are other ways, and they can work.


More about the summit soon.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

38 people, 33 projects, 9 action areas and more

Classified as: Project update
Updated with minor changes 11 August 2014.

Here are some facts, figures, themes and ideas about where this research project is up to.

How many people?

38 research participants have been involved in this project to date. There were 23 from ISEPICH in stage 1 of the project (12 community members, eleven staff members from ISEPICH member agencies). Fourteen people from ISEPICH are involved in stage 2 (eight community members and six staff), including one person who has replaced someone who had to leave.

There are also eight staff members from Southern Grampians and Glenelg PCP (SGGPCP) and member agencies, and seven staff members from Wimmera PCP and member agencies, involved in stage 2.

About 40 other people have also participated in forums and discussion groups. These people aren't research participants as their discussions haven't been recorded, but notes from the forums and discussion groups will add to the data for the project.

Another 14 people have made 40 comments on this blog - their names won't be used in the project, but the ideas they've shared will help to broaden it.

How many projects?

I've identified 33 projects addressing environmental sustainability/climate change and equity/social justice from the focus groups and interviews.

There's a lot more projects promoting equity/social justice without an environmental component, and they will be discussed in my final thesis, but I'm focusing particularly on the ones addressing both issues.

This is an update from the info I posted in October last year about 21 projects, so there's quite a few more now.

What are they doing?

Here are 9 key themes describing what the projects are addressing:  
  • promote social inclusion (build community, reduce living costs for low income groups, improve access, identify groups vulnerable to climate change) - 28
  • build capacity  (partnerships, policy, community, organisations, government) - 24 
  • save energy (housing 10, transport 5, other buildings 2, communal kitchen 1) - 18  
  • increase access to local fresh food (improve access, produce local fresh) - 8 
  • increase access to nature - 8  
  • increase Indigenous participation/ cultural safety/awareness - 5  
  • reduce waste - 2  
  • focus on early life, young people - 2  
  • save water - 1
These are my classifications, so they have to be checked by the participants (if they have time!) before they're finalised.

What's it all mean?

A really interesting thing I'm doing at present is comparing what's happening in practice (the projects), with the theory (principles and action areas framework) developed by ISEPICH participants back in stage 1.

Overall, the framework is looking pretty good when compared to practice, but in some areas there's a really good fit between theory and practice, and there's others where it doesn't seem so close. Sorting out the how and why of that is going to be a fascinating journey, and I hope to post more on this soon.

The original ISEPICH framework for promoting equity, environmental sustainability and health

Project update

I just realised today although the principles and action areas developed in the first stage of this project are shown on the Project page, I've never put a copy of the framework up. 

I'm fixing that now, because I've been doing some very interesting work on it which I'm planning to summarise in the next project update.

So here it is: