Tag Archives: Sustainable Development Goals

Shaping a Living World: Part 11

Half of humanity—3.5 billion people—live in cities today, and this number will continue to grow. Because the future will be urban for a majority of people, the solutions to some of the greatest issues facing humans— poverty, climate change, healthcare, education— must be found in city life. “

(UN SDG 11

Hello again folks!

Today I want to talk about the UN Sustainable goal number 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities. In many ways, cities are the real heart of our civilizations. Over half of all people live in cities, but cities are also responsible for a huge amount of energy, resource, and carbon emissions. As the facts and figures of this SDG point out;

The world’s cities occupy just 3 per cent of the Earth’s land, but account for 60-80 per cent of energy consumption and 75 per cent of carbon emissions” (UN SDG 11

More than this, the percentage of people living is cities is estimated to increase over the course of the century. This poses significant challenges to building a sustainable and renewable world. Thankfully, there is a quite a bit that can be done to improve and retrofit our cities and create a civilization that is truly sustainable in the long run.

There are a lot of specific solutions that we will get into, but first I would like for you to use your imagination for a bit. I want you to picture a city with green roofs on every building, from the smallest structures up to massive skyscrapers. Imagine that some of these skyscrapers are not offices or hotels, but vertical food farms or urban forestry towers. These structures along with food forests and urban gardens throughout the city provide large amounts of fresh produce for local markets and restaurants. In addition, the greenery absorbs and sequesters carbon dioxide, and overall improves air and water quality.

Imagine too that these buildings have been built or retrofitted with sustainable materials, such as wood and alternative concretes. In addition, each building could have a net zero carbon impact, our could be a “living building” that creates more energy then it produces. Rooftops and carports could be lined with solar panels, or windows might actually create solar power.

The entire city would be powered by renewable energy. 

From high atop one of these towers, you see an endless sea of greenery, from trees to plenty of accessible parks. More than this, the vehicles on the streets are fully electric, powered by a complex sustainable grid system. Far off in the distance you can see wind turbines that help to power the city.

The entire project has been a reintergration of humanity and nature, in which the forests and the wilds have returned to the city. Moreso, the city has become an integral part of the landscape, a part of nature and not separate from it.

Does this sound like pie in the sky, something form science fiction? What if I told you this isn’t some pipe dream? What if I told you that truly sustainable cities was possible, and with the technology of today.

It is possible, but it will also take a lot of collective work by everyone. Individual actions are great, but they are not enough. It will take a change in spirit, in culture, in policy, and in the direction of our planet as a whole.

And it starts with you and your city. Each and every one

How you ask?

Let’s explore that a little deeper.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

It should be stated right off that there is no such thing as a perfect solution. Every single idea we propose is going to have flaws, or is going to be outside of the realm of the possible. That being said, 193 countries have agreed upon the SDG’s, and I think it represents some of the more realistic options available to humanity.

These goal represent a collective agreement to give it our best shot, and I believe we can do this.

By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums.”

Affordable housing is a big deal, especially with the rising costs of living in many cities. These kinds of costs displace people, or price people out of a given city. It also can increase homelessness, and contribute to the many problems associated with segregation. In my personal opinion, everyone should have the ability to have shelter. Now, there are a lot of different ways to do that, from low income housing options through ideas like Universal Basic Income. What each city will need to implement is the policies and practices best fit for their situation.

By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.”

I think that this one speaks for itself. We need to be building more sustainable infrastructure for transportation; especially in the realm of public and mass transport. These solutions not only are necessary for sustainable communities, but also for the most vulnerable and marginalized. New electric vehicles do nothing for people who cannot afford them, but electric buses and trains might.

By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.”

To me, this one speaks for the need for democratic methods of government and planning. The ability for the people of each city to decide what is best practice for their communities, and for the plans for each community to be sustainable as possible. Sustainable urban planning needs to account for disaster resiliency, the needs of the masses, and the needs of the environment. Urban planning that ignores flood plains or wild fires is not sustainable.

By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management.”

This is a big one, as we all need to be doing the best we can to lower our environmental impact per person. Air quality is very poor in many cities, and there is more we can do individually as well as collectively that can make our air cleaner and more breathable. Waste Engagement is also a big issue, as the growing number of plastics in our landfills and in our oceans is a serious concern. Recycling and circular economic production standards should be the rule, not the exception.

By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.”

We need more parks, more urban forests, more community gardens, all of it. Public parks and forests are vital to reintegrating ecosystems into our city systems, and it is an important step in transition from “grey” to “green” cities. The impact of more trees alone would be substantial in creating healthier and cleaner environments.

By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels.”

As this target mostly speaks for itself, I am going to let it stand as is.

This gives us at least some ideas on how we may be able to push policies and implementation of crucial sustainability solutions. It is important to note that quite a bit of work towards sustainable cities is already being done.

As such, let’s look at a few examples from northern Europe.

Social Democracy

Take a look at the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index and notice that two Nordic cities, Stockholm and Copenhagen appear in the top twenty. There is a lot of data in that index, spread across three major pillars; People, Environmental, and Economic. I invite you to browse that information more thoroughly.

In addition, the Sieman’s Green City Index has Copenhagen at #1, Stockholm as #2, Oslo at #3 and Helsinki at #7 on it’s overall ranking of green cities. It should however be noted that this index is from 2009, so represents dated information.

I feel it is safe to conclude then that these cities are on the right track, and can serve as models for cities across the globe. So the question then becomes; what are they doing that justifies such a high ranking? There is a lot of information in the Green City Index, so just like the previous link, please look it over for yourself. But let’s look at a few points covered in the Green City Index, and then more specifically at the four Nordic cities at the top of the list.

– There is a strong correlation between cities and the wealth they have at hand. This should come as no surprise, as wealth translates to the ability to invest in expertise and sustainable infrastructure. It is true that many of the cities in the index have quite the GDP at their disposal. But it is also notable that cities like those in the North have strong redistribution and taxation programs instead of the US’s obsession with “trickle down”.

There is little correlation between city size and how well it does on the index. Though it is important to note that physically smaller cities make it easier for things such as biking or walking.

Cities with an active civil society tended to perform well. There is a strong connection between the voluntary participation of citizens in organizations and how well that city performed in the index.

Stemming from the last point, there is a decent correlation between citizen engagement and environmental performance. This is at the democratic governance level, as well as the local level. Sustainability is the result of collective action.

Cities can approach sustainable development through a diverse range of options, ranging from policy and environmental governance, to volunteering and other organizations.

Technology will be a factor in creating sustainable cities, implemented through all levels of government as well as individual actions of residents.

Education and public awareness are very important to the development of sustainable cities. When people are given the necessary information, they can make greener choices. This cascades through all levels of society.

With all that in mind, let’s look the top Nordic performers; Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen achieves the highest ranking in the European Green City Index, with a score of 87.31 out of 100. The city performs well in all eight categories of the index, and is ranked joint first in the environmental governance subcategory. Successive governments at both national and municipal level have strongly supported the promotion of sustainable development.

Copenhagen is at the top of the list as far as this index is concerned. Not only does support for sustainable development come from both national and local governments, Copenhagen also ranks real high for low C02 emissions, energy efficient buildings, and renewable energy.

This city also has an ambitious plan to be carbon neutral by 2025, and part of this initiative is carbon-neutral neighborhoods; a partnership between public as well as private agencies.

 

Stockholm

Stockholm is ranked second in the European Green City Index, with a score of 86.65 out of 100. The city does particularly well in the areas of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, buildings, transport, air quality and environmental governance. It shares a number of characteristics with its Nordic neighbours, Copenhagen, Oslo and Helsinki (all of which rank highly in the index); these include a plentiful supply of water, a lack of heavy industry and a long tradition of policies aimed at protecting the environment.”

Stockholm is second only to Copenhagen as far as the index is concerned. As the quote above points out, this city does quote well for low CO2, and transportation. In fact 75% of the city’s public transport runs on renewable energy. Some of the buildings in Stockholm are some of the most energy efficient in the world.

Oslo

Oslo is ranked third overall in the European Green City Index, with a score of 83.98 out of 100. It is also the best-performing city in terms of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, largely because of the use of hydroelectricity to power rail-based public transport.”

Olso takes the cake for having low CO2 emissions, in addition to the city getting nearly 70% if it’s energy from renewable sources. Strong environmental policies from the city council have noticeable affects on sustainability.

Helsinki

Helsinki ranks in seventh place in the European Green City Index, with a score of 79.29 out of 100. Helsinki is ranked fourth among the Nordic cities, largely because of its relatively high carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and energy consumption, even though the city is a leader in energy efficiency. “

Helsinki, while scoring lower than other Nordic cities, still rounds out the top ten. While it puts out more CO2 than the others and has more work to do in terms of energy, Helinski ranks real high in energy efficient as well as environmental governance.

As always, there is a lot more information to be found out there, but for now I want to move to the Drawdown section of this piece. I have talked a lot about renewables energy, and energy efficiency, and clean transportation. You might be wondering what exactly those kind of ideas look like.

Well, let’s explore that too.

Drawdown

Now comes the part where we get into the real nitty gritty of how to create sustainable cities. There are countless numbers of interconnected solutions presented by Drawdown, and as per usual I encourage you to visit the site yourself because there is no way I am going to be able to cover them all.

This is because cities are really complex, and the specifics on the ground will vary from city to city; based on needs and on environment. We also need to be honest about cities, in that in many ways they are resource pits. As was pointed out earlier in this article, cities use the bulk of energy on the planet. They also require constant supplies from concrete, to metals, to food, and countless others resources besides. Over half of our population lives in cities, and that requires constant inputs.

That means there are countless of different ways to create sustainable cities, and that this can and needs to happen on every scale of society. From individuals up to the international level, our cities are deeply interconnected with each other and with their environment. The only way to truly create sustainable cities is in a holistic and systemic fashion.

Materials

As has already been pointed out, cities are resource pits. You need wood, steel, glass, concrete, and other materials for building. You need (currently) fossil fuels to power transportation and industries, as well as to just keep the lights on. Plastics, electronics, and on and on and on. The resource requires are immense, and so sustainable cities starts with using sustainable materials.

Alternative Cement and Bioplastics  would be a great start. The current processes we use for both requires huge amounts of energy during processing as well as fossil fuels as raw materials. Long string polymers for biodegradable plastics are found in natures, such as cellulose and chitins. More than that, we should design productions for a circular lifecycle, instead of for the dump. If we build our products and buildings to last, and then to be recycled or bidegraded at the end of life, we would be off to a good start.

Recycling is an obvious step as well. At the individual , industrial, as well as materials such as paper, recycling is a vital part of the process. Comprehensive municipal recycling programs are an integral part of the sustainability equation, as well as designing products to be recycled in the first place.

One of the large factors in energy use and emission is heating and cooling, and the includes refrigerant management. In fact, managing refrigerants it the number one solution according to Drawdown, and will help to keep almost 90 gigatons of CO2 out of the air.

Buildings and Cities

Building scale solutions are vitally important to creating sustainable cities, and there is plenty of diverse ways to retrofit and redesign cities of the future. Some of the more impactful solutions include energy efficiency and heat management. This includes solutions such as insulation and LED lightings for both households and commercialentities.

Other solutions will go a long way including green roofs (which can grow food too), and solar water systems, and building automation too.

Much of the green construction applies to new buildings, but cities are not made of just new buildings. Many cities have been around for hundreds of years, and have many old buildings and historic districts. That is which retrofitting is so important for old buildings.

That said, imagine new construction being a mosaic of many of the different solutions present here. New buildings could be net-zero buildings, buildings that create as much energy as they use. An entire city could be constructed of buildings like this, and combined with urban farming and forestry, it is possible to envision a city that meets most of its energy and food requirements in a self-sufficient manner.

Some solutions are bigger than any one building, and need to be implemented across several buildings, communities and neighborhoods. These include things such as water and heating infrastructure, as well as transportation.

One of most impactful solutions is district heatingseveral buildings have their heating and cooling needs met by a central facility, cutting down on the need for distributed heating systems and the energy inefficiencies that result. Copenhagen is a global model for DHC’s sytems, as it now meets 98% of its heating requirements with the world’s largest system.

Water distribution is very energy intensive, and efficiency here can reduce not only the monetary costs, but the energy costs as well. Huge amounts of electricity are wasted pumping water through leaking systems or outdated infrastructure.

Our current economic system is incredibly wasteful, so inevitably a lot of what we use ends up in landfills. A sustainable city will have to get rid, to the best of its ability, such waste. A lot of reductions can be found in designing products to be durable, reusable, and easily recyclable at the end of life. Following all the solutions of Drawdown, landfill waste should reduce from the change in diets, waste reduction, and comprehensive recycling and composting programs. Some more waste can turned into energy from waste-to-energy plants (rememeber, this is a regrets solution), but some will still reach the landfill. Landfill methane extraction can help to recapture some lost energy, and turn it into energy for limited use.

Transportation

Cities require the movement of people and materials in an out of the city, and as such transportation is an important aspect to creating a sustainable city.

The most obvious solutions are those that reduce the demand for inner-city transportation in the first place, such as walkable and bikable infrastructure. It can help too if some of those bikes are electric, as it is one of the most environmental forms of motorized transport on the planet.

Yet, it has to be said that biking or walking isn’t always the ideal form of transporation. If greater distances are involved, sometimes cars and trains are a better option. If a lot of cargo is involved, trucks, trains and ships come into play. This implies a radical need to redesign our transportation systems. Shorter distances between extraction and production can go a long way, as can localizing everything we can, be it food or manufacturing. But not every city is built on a iron mine, or near a stone quarry, so sometimes that transportation has to happen.

Therefore, the most impact we can have is by implementing forms of electric vehicles. Electric vehicles now means I am mostly talking about passenger cars, but in the future it will need to include all vehicles from cars to ships, and charged on a renewable grid. All of these options are being developed.

Other important solutions for cities includes the electrification and expansion of mass transit, as this keeps unneeded vehicles off the road. This solutions includes both buses as well as subways and passenger trains.

For connecting cities together, especially in the US, one of our best options is high speed rail, as it is fully electric and can help connect cities together across long distances.

Most of our heavy shipping relies on trucks, trains, and ships. In the short term, we need to be doing everything we can to increase efficient fuel use on these vehicles, from greater fuel efficiency, to aerodynamics, to hybrid fuel systems. In the long term these methods would be fully electric as well, in some form or another. A lot of work is being done here, and several companies have already ordered Tesla electric trucks for their fleets. It’s a step in the right direction.

For long distance travel, planes obviously come into play. There are savings and efficiencies to be gained here, and in the long term we can only imagine what the next generation aircraft may well look like. It is possible that future aircraft may be fully electric as well.

Future Solutions

It would not be fair to end this post without some consideration of what is on the horizon. I want you to imagine, just for a second, a city created from living buildingsPicture a city build of buildings that create their own energy, their own food, and are built from sustainable materials such as wood. These are fully self-sufficient buildings that recycle water, collect rain water, create their own solar and renewable energy, and grow their own food. What would a city built of these kind of structures look like?

We don’t have to imagine, because some examples are already being built.

More than that, we could have cities built of sustainable materials, powered by renewable energy, and driven by electrified transportation. Our electric grid is considered to be one of the most complex and intergrated machine on the planet. Imagine for a second if it were a smart gridthat could help manage and balance demand and energy use across the network. Aside from the grid, electric (autonomous) transporation could also be running on smart highways.

Think about it.

Thanks for reading!

(From Plug In Magazine)

Sources/References;

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/buildings-and-cities

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/transport

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/materials

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/cities/

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/09/these-are-the-world-s-most-sustainable-cities/

https://www.arcadis.com/media/0/6/6/%7B06687980-3179-47AD-89FD-F6AFA76EBB73%7DSustainable%20Cities%20Index%202016%20Global%20Web.pdf

https://www.arcadis.com/en/global/our-perspectives/sustainable-cities-index-2016/

https://www.hel.fi/static/ymk/esitteet/nordic-catalogue-060612.pdf

https://www.siemens.com/entry/cc/features/greencityindex_international/all/en/pdf/report_en.pdf

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/12/05/shaping-a-living-world-part-7/

https://www.siemens.com/entry/cc/features/greencityindex_international/all/en/pdf/gci_report_summary.pdf

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Shaping a Living World: Part 7

It is important for each individual, community, and nation to take stock of what that means for the betterment of the whole. Technical solutions can never move forward without political will, and the necessary political will requires a shift in our most deeply held values, in our very definitions of what it means to be human, and in how humanity relates to the world. We recognize this shift as a spiritual imperative. “ A Pagan Statement on the Environment

Hello again folks!

I have been very busy with the holidays, but I am trying my best to keep up regular blog posts. However, with other projects waiting in the wings I have had to prioritize the writing I am going to get done this year. Frankly, I’m just not going to be able to get to everything I want to before I go into “manuscript mode” towards the end of the year. There is a much larger project fighting me for mental space.

As such, I have decided that my next two posts will be about Renewable Energy and Sustainable Cities; which are UN Sustainable Development Goals number 7 and 11 respectively. These two goals are really close to my heart, and I want to get them out as soon as I can. I want to, and plan to, write about all the other SDG’s as well, but they will have to go onto the back burner around the end of the year. I will have to come back to them in the new year.

So let’s jump right in. Today I want to talk about renewable energy, and the role it will need to play in creating a sustainable world. The fact of the matter is that most of our energy generation technologies are dirty, and rely on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels, as NASA points out, are one of the largest contributors to atmospheric carbon dioxide:

On Earth, human activities are changing the natural greenhouse. Over the last century the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This happens because the coal or oil burning process combines carbon with oxygen in the air to make CO2. To a lesser extent, the clearing of land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities has increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.” (NASA

The above quote highlights some of the many human causes of climate change, and yes climate change is the result of human activitiesAt this point, we don’t have the luxury of burying our heads in the sand (or up some unspecified orifice).

Fossil fuels are used in everything from our power systems to our transportation systems, to our materials such as plastics. Fossil fuels are ubiqitous throughout our entire society, and for the the sake of the planet as well as the future of our civilizations we need to be transitioning away from a fossil fuel economy. And we need to be doing it now.

More than that, it is is possible. We have the means and technology to make this transition today. What we lack is resources (public, private, and otherwise) and political will. These changes are waiting for us to embrace them, and time is of the essence.

In fact, as the World Economic Forum points out, world wide fossil fuel use could end as early as 2050. Not only could we end fossil fuel use, but we could transform the vast majority of our energy systems to renewable and sustainable sources.

As the WEF points out;

The study, by the Solutions Project, aims to completely remove reliance on fossil fuels by switching all energy use to renewable sources.

It claims doing so would deliver the Paris Climate Change Agreement target of keeping global warming to below 1.5C.

It could also help avert the 4.6 million deaths that are connected to air pollution each year.”

(Image from The Solutions Project)

2050 is 33 years away. At most a generation or two. I could live to see that world, and it will be the world our children and grandchildren will inherit. We must do our best to make sure that world is the best for them. Greener, cleaner, renewable, and more sustainable.

If you have the time, be sure to also check this video where Mark Jacobson explains how that transition could happen.

Now, I think the scale and benefits of the task ahead of us is pretty clear, so I don’t feel any need to harp on that further. As such, let’s turn to the see what the SDG’s point to as targets for this goal.

Sustainable Development Goals 

By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services”

This one is pretty straight forward, and basically involves further developing our energy infrastructure, especially in areas of the Global South that are often undeserved or don’t have access to reliable energy sources at all.

By 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.”

I honestly wish this target had stronger verbiage. While I think it is important to ratchet up our efforts, it is pretty clear in many cases that we can and need to be doing a lot more. We need a better vision, more investment, and more boots on the ground doing the actual work. It is not enough to “increase substantially” the share of renewables, no. We need to be pushing for a full transition.

By 2030, enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology

This target speaks most strongly to my last point about the need for increased investment. At every level we can, from the individual to the international, we need to be freeing up the resources to make the transition to renewables possible. That is everything from research and development of new technologies, as well as greater efficiency, and infrastructure. Science and engineering requires funding, labor and materials. We need to make that more available than we do now.

By 2030, expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States, and land-locked developing countries, in accordance with their respective programmes of support”

If you build it, sustainability will come. This is pretty straight forward and blends nicely into the previous points I have already made.

All told, on top of investment and resources, we need to be creating a policy environment that allows renewables to thrive. As the quote at the beginning of this piece points out, all the technology in the world isn’t any use if we don’t have the policies to enable it. Rooftop solar and micro-wind doesn’t help us at all if cities don’t allow residents to put them up. The most efficient wind turbines and solar farms can never be built if we keep subsidizing fossil fuels and continue to make it difficult to invest in those projects.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the policies of social democracy that help to create a fertile culture for renewable energy.

Social Democracy

As Wikipedia points out, there are a lot of things that could impede our transition to renewable energy systems;

  • Climate change denial
  • Efforts to impede renewable energy by the fossil fuel industry
  • Political paralysis
  • Unsustainable consumption of energy and resources
  • Path dependencies and outdated infrastructure
  • Financial and governance constraints

This should sound real familiar to those of use living in the US. As such, we have to wonder what we can do better. As is the regular habit of this series, we look to Northern Europe for some guidance.

First off, let’s just take a peek at what the World Economic Forum had to say about the countries that are closest to 100% renewable energy:

“According to the Solutions Project study, published in the journal Joule, the countries closest to 100% renewable energy are: Tajikistan (76%), Paraguay (58.9%), Norway (35.8%), Sweden (20.7%), Costa Rica (19.1%), Switzerland (19%), Georgia (18.7%), Montenegro (18.4%), and Iceland (17.3%).” (WEF

I want you to notice that of nine countries listed, three of them are Nordic. Norway is by far the closest, but at under 40% still has a long way to go. The WEF also put Norway, Sweden and Denmark in the top ten (behind on Switzerland) on their Worlds Top Energy Peformer’s List.

The US by contrast was given a score of 52 out of the 127 countries surveyed. There is plenty of room for improvement there.

So what are some of the things the Nordic countries are doing right? For that we are going to look at the Nordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities;

You might be wondering why a focus on cities instead of the countries as a whole? First, because the cities represented are primarily capital cities, and so are quite representative of the countries as a whole. Second, because by focusing on specific cities, we can talk about specific solutions as opposed to generalities. These will become more important as we get to the Drawdown section of this article. Third, cities can serve as models to other cities across the globe. While policies and cultures vary quite a bit between nations and boundaries, most cities have the capacity to implement these solutions in their own way. More than nations, cities are the real heart of civilization. This will also serve as a good transition into my future piece on Sustainable Cities.

Some of the details here presented represent 8 different Nordic cities; Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Helsinki, Manehamm, Nuuk, Torsavn, and Reykjavik. I will only be detailing small excerpts here, so I encourage you to look at the source yourself for more details.

I will be focusing my attention on just four of the cities, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, and Helsinki.

(From Nordic Solutions)

Copenhagen, Denmark

540,000 population. Targeting being carbon neutral by 2025.

Stockholm, Sweden

861,000 population. Targeting being fossil fuel free by 2050.

Olso, Norway

615,000 population. 50% reduction in C02 by 2030.

Helsinki, Finland

588,000 population. 20% carbon reduction by 2020.

But as the source points out; there are some very specific things each of these cities are doing, often in cooperation with one another and other levels of government.

Traditional, centralised generation of energy is often inefficient, wasting 60% or more of fuel – in particular, the generation of electrical power using fossil fuels or nuclear simultaneously produces large quantities of heat energy that, with nowhere to go, is discarded. “

How have the Nordic cities tackled this problem?

In response, over the last 100 years, the Nordic cities have championed decentralised, district energy networks; systems that can generate energy at fairly large scales, but close to where the demand is…”

There are so many different things that each of the cities are doing, so please I encourage you to peruse the source cited. It is full of case studies on many of the cities, and these are important models that US cities can certainly be replicating. But it goes well beyond technological solutions and even political well. As the Nordic Solutions points out;

City governments and technology are important when it comes to addressing the challenges facing cities in the 21st century. However, ultimately it is the way that individual people and companies act that dictates resource demands, consumption patterns and our impact on the natural surroundings. To truly address the challenges of climate change, resource depletion and population growth, human behaviour must change. Acting sustainably must become ‘normal’.”

But, don’t despair for the US. There are ideas out there on how to fully convert our power grid to a renewables. Be sure to check out the great infographics from National Geographic for the US here and even for the whole world here

I don’t want to belabor this point any more than I have too, because there is quite a bit more to say on specific solutions as presented by Drawdown, many of which are in place or in development in many in the Nordic cities.

So let’s explore those in more depth, shall we?

Drawdown

(Image From Drawdown)

Now, there is quite a bit in this section from Drawdown, so I absolutely encourage you to check out the website, or better yet buy the book. The image above does a great job showing how these solutions are all integrated, and how they interact with many other areas including city infrastructure and with the environment.

As a whole, the implementation costs for these solutions is $5 trillion dollars. That kind of price tag exceeds the capacities of any one city or even any one nation. It is only through cooperation and collaboration at all levels that we can hope to implement these solutions.

If we do so, Drawdown estimates that these solutions will remove 246 gigatons from the atmosphere, and we will save almost $21 trillion in operating costs in the long run. The point is, we need investment and political will. These solutions will help protect the environment, build a sustainable, as well as benefit the economy by more then paying for themselves in the long run.

Due to the fact that there are so many different ways we can build a sustainable and renewable energy future, I am going to be limiting myself the best I can. Mostly because of space reasons, but also because the website already exists for all of this, and it is easier for me to point you there.

Seriously, check out Drawdown’s Energy Solutions if you have not already!

Without further ado;

Electrical Generation

Wind Energy – I’m going to be talking about most of the solutions as blocs, for space reasons. This bloc is scalable; ranging from Micro-wind at the individual level to large scale facilities both Onshore and Offshore. 

Heck, it can even includes floating wind farms like those that just came online in Scotland. With all the open ocean and even lake space (looking at you Michigan), floating wind and solar projects could certainly open up many possibilities for a renewable future.

Onshore wind turbines alone have a huge mitigation impact, as they come in at the #2 solution for climate change according to Drawdown. For the energy sector as as while, onshore turbines will help avoid 35% of C02 emissions from 2020 – 2050.

Wind by far has the largest impact as a bloc of the energy sector, and it needs support, investment, and elbow grease from everyone.

Solar Energy

Solar energy is also a really diverse bloc of solutions that are immediately scaleable. On the individual level there is Rooftop Solar, which can be installed everywhere from households, to skyscrapers, to parking lot covers. At larger scales there is great potential with PV Solar Farms as well as Concentrated Solar Plants 

While not as impactful as wind energy, Solar Farms can help mitigate up to 15% of C02 emissions and also are the #8 solution according to Drawdown. Rooftop Solar adds another 10%, with Concentrated Solar adding another 5% mitigation to the mix.


Geothermal Energy

Geothermal is admittedly a small part of this mix, but for a truly renewable and sustainable future we will have to implement a diverse plurality of sources. Most certainly wind and solar, but also techniques such as geothermal as well. Drawdown ranks this as #18 out of 100 solutions, and Iceland can certainly be a model for how to do geothermal.

Water Energy

Nearly 70% of the Earth’s surface is water, and the energy available from this resource is immense, if we can learn to tap it in a way that is sustainable and economical. Obviously, water power brings to mind the big hydropower plants, which have certainly been a mixed blessing from an environmental standpoint. But it can also include much smaller scale operations such as In-Stream Hydropower as well as Wave and Tidal Energy.

Like geothermal these solutions will make up a smaller percentage of the mix. But they cannot be discounted, and Drawdown ranks Wave and Tidal as the #29 solution, and In Stream Hydro as #48.

Transitional Technologies

All of these solutions take time and resources to implement. Construction takes time, as does convincing politicians it is a good idea. As such, it is practical impossible to whole stop our fossil-fuel based energy system overnight and wake up in a renewable future tomorrow. That means we will need to transition away from fossil fuels by decommissioning older fossil fuel sources and building new renewable infrastructure simultaneously. The sooner and more aggressively we can do this the better in my opinion, and the better for a future as well.

That being said, there will be many “transition” solutions that we will need to bridge that gap without catastrophically interrupting energy systems. Some of these solutions include things like ethanol and other biofuels, as well as hybrid vehicles. However, it also includes things like Nuclear, Biomass Energy, and Waste To Energy Waste To Energy.

Many people push nuclear as the “best” method for the future, but that kind of reasoning has a lot of flaws. While nuclear fission plants can create a lot of energy, they are also very expensive and can create toxic wastes. While Drawdown ranks nuclear as the #20 solution, it also predicts its use will decline over time and considers nuclear to be a “regrets” solution. The more we rely on nuclear, the more we will come to regret doing so.

The same is true of waste to energy. In an ideal sustainable world, less waste would be produced to being with, and the rest would be recycled, composted or reused somehow. However, that is not our reality at the moment, and waste to energy is one way that is being utilized. It is a dirty process that relies on incineration, and Drawdown also considers this one a “regrets” solution. The less we use Waste-to-energy, the better.

Enabling Technologies

Now, electrical sources such as wind and solar are rightly criticized for their intermittent nature. This can certainly be partially mitigated by more localized construction, as well as a diversity of sources. However, those ideas can only go so far, and in order to truly implement renewable energy we will also have to reshape and rethink how we handle energy storage and transmission.

Part of this will involve decentralizing many energy storages system, not only on the individual or local level but also at utility scale. This will involve the creation of advanced battery storage systems at many different levels. That will allow us to mitigate the sometimes volatile nature of wind and solar sources.

It will also involve making our energy grid for more flexible, as our current grid is designed for utility scale centralized energy production. Renewables such as solar and wind have specific siting requirements (sunny or windy areas), and also benefit from being as local as possible to where the energy produced is consumed. More than this, our grids will need to be further localized and decentralized, such as is the case with Microgrids

Future Technologies

We have the technology we need to create a sustainable future right now, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to research and develop new energy solutions. As Drawdown points out, there are some potentials on the horizon that may be worth our time exploring.

The first in regards to Drawdown is nuclear fusionwhich uses the same process as the sun to make energy out of light atoms. Unlike modern nuclear fission, which relies on breaking down of heavy elements (such as uranium) to create energy, fusion combines light elements such as hydrogen in order to create energy. However, it must be said that this has been an expensive technology to develop, and so far remains unproven. If humanity does figure out a process for fusion, it could revolutionize our energy future with abundant clean energy. Though for the time being, collecting the energy of the sun is probably more economical.

Another really promising technology is Solid State Wave EnergyOne of the big problems in utilizing wave and tidal energy has been cost efficiency and the fact that like wind turbines, water based systems require moving parts and need to be able to handle ocean and water stresses. This has proven to be very cost prohibitive in tapping the some 80,000 terawatt hours of energy that might be available to us in the ocean.

To get around the problem of moving parts, a company in Seattle is trying to develop Solid State Wave Energy, which does not rely on moving parts. Given the raw amount of energy capacity available, Solid State is may well help us unlock the untapped energy potential of the ocean.

Even without future prospects on the table, the fact of the matter is that we have the capacity and the technology to build a renewable and sustainable infrastructure for the planet TODAY. What we need is political will and financial resources made available. This has to be a collective effort, from individuals, to nations, to international partnerships.

I will be about 65 years old in 2050, and a great gift to the future would be a renewable powered world. I could see this world even…

The question is not CAN we, but WILL we?

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/energy/

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/electricity-generation

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/100%25_renewable_energy#Places_with_around_100.25_renewable_electricity

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/09/countries-100-renewable-energy-by-2050/

https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/energy/renewables/100-percent-renewable-energy-for-139-countries-by-2050

https://www.hel.fi/static/ymk/esitteet/nordic-catalogue-060612.pdf

https://www.sierraclub.org/ready-for-100/commitments

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/03/these-are-the-worlds-top-10-energy-performers/

http://www.cell.com/joule/pdf/S2542-4351(17)30012-0.pdf

http://ecopagan.com/

https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/

http://fortune.com/2017/07/10/climate-change-green-house-gases/

https://insideclimatenews.org/news/10072017/fossil-fuel-companies-responsible-global-emissions-cdp-report

https://youtu.be/UiBMklgawDA

http://thesolutionsproject.org/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kUE0BZtTRc

https://www.iea.org/etp2017/summary/

https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/climate-change/carbon-free-power-grid/index.html

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/climate-change/carbon-free-world/index.html


Shaping a Living World: Part 5

We must be clear about our agenda, which includes promoting sustainable, local economies, reforming our food systems, distributing resources in a more just and humane fashion, and ensuring that our human populations are below the carrying capacity of our planet through access to voluntary birth control, and equal access to education and work for women.A Pagan Statement on the Environment (Italics Mine)

Hello again folks!

I’m going to say right off the bat that this is going to be a long one. But there is a lot to say on such an important issue.

Today, if you haven’t guessed, we are going to be talking about gender equality. This is a huge topic, and it includes both Women’s Rights as well as LGTB+ Rights. So before we jump right in to the deep end, let’s get a little bit of a handle on what we are talking about here. When I talk about equality, I am talking about basic human rights, as the UN site for Goal 5 points out;

Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.

Providing women and girls (all people) with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.” (Italics added are mine) (UN SDG Goal 5)

Now, this runs us straight into our first problem. While we cannot diminish the fact that goal 05 is primarily focused on women and girls, it also leaves out specific mention of LGBT+ people. This is a big problem, and it has been pointed out in several sources;

“….heads of state gathered at the U.N. this weekend to adopt this ambitious roadmap for achieving sustainable development on our planet over the next 15 years. Yet throughout the 35-page draft document there is no mention of the words “sexual orientation” or “gender identity,” or of LGBT people.“ (HRC.org)

While the article points out that there are several of the SDG’s that could cover LGBT+ rights. Some of the examples covered include parts of Goal 10 such as;

“- By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status

– Ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action in this regard”

The article also points out that increased equality for women and could also benefit lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender women. However, the fact that the language that the LGBT+ community is not specifically mentioned all throughout the goals is more concerning. If we are talking about Gender Equality as the goal, then it makes sense that it should include ALL people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Lupa, a bisexual woman, drives the point home when she says;

I do wish there was more explicitly said about including QUILTBAG (queer, undecided, intersex, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, asexual, gay) people in the sustainability goals. They’re already trying to show gender equality through improving the status of women, but they ignore how the oppression of QUILTBAG people (whether female or not) can scupper sustainability efforts in the same way that the oppression of women does. Not only are you keeping a big group of people out of play in finding the solutions for the problems we face and implementing them, but oppressing them also means they’re less likely to find help for other sustainability issues, such as poverty and disability. “ 

Let’s explore the specific targets in this goal in more depth shall we?

Sustainable Development Goals

Women and girls make up about half of the population, and we as a species are never going to make it if we continue to treat half of the population as an after thought. This goes well beyond just women as mothers and daughters, but gets to the heart of the fact that women are people too, and should be involved in the process of building a better world. As such, for this section I am going to comment on a selection of goals one by one to drive the point home.

End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere – SDG Goal 5 

This is such a huge topic that I am struggling on where to begin with this one. Women face discrimination in all parts of life; at home, on the job, and in the classroom. There is not a single sphere of social life in which women are not discriminated against, whether directly or indirectly, and with varying degrees of severity. It can range from microaggressions, to sexist jokes, to full on misogyny.

Discrimination can be legal or informal, and includes gender wage-gaps, social and economic opportunities, cultural biases, and dozens of areas at home and in public. It can be present in assumed gendered stereotypes (ie. the woman’s place is in the home/not in this place), or just straight up regressive or repressive policies. Some of these are discriminatory, some border on violence. Which leads us to our next point;

Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation…

I want you to take a good look at the fact sheets from the World Health Organization here

I want you to notice that around 1/3 of all women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.

I want you to notice that most (30%) of that violence is committed by an intimate partner.

I also want you to notice that up to 38% of all murders of women are at the hands of a male intimate partner.

It should be obvious that we can do so much better than that, no matter where we fall on the gender spectrum. I am especially talking to the men here, because we have to do better than this. How is it even okay that most women will be murdered by male intimate partners?

My friend Kathleen O’sullivan-Cook had this to say;

This goal should seem obvious, and yet still continues, and in many places in America people seem to encourage it, or at least do very little to stop it. Even here in Michigan which has one of the highest trafficking rates in the country, little seems to be done to combat it. As for violence, particularly private “domestic” violence, there is despicably little done to punish those who perpetrate the violence. Even our own police forces find it difficult to sympathize with women and girls when violence occurs. And yet, 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and hundreds of women die every day at the hands of their significant other.” 

The point goes without saying; that there is a great deal more work to do here. We must work to change our cultural attitudes, as well as our policies that allow such deplorable conditions for women.

Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life

This one should be another obvious point, but it is not always the case. In fact, women are the exception rather than the rule when it comes to positions of leadership; whether corporate, educational, or government. This is especially true in the US, and you can see that from some of the information from Time. Of course, that comes with the caveat that this information was from the election last year. That said, I doubt things have shifted too much in the course of a single election. Women are still vastly underrepresented considering they are approximately 50% of the population.

As Kathleen points out;

The goals need to include making sure all women are no longer excluded from key influential systems that help raise them to positions of power, such as higher education “fraternities” that give shoe ins to members. They also need to be included in influential public roles, such as more governorships, religious figureheads, and other authoritative roles…

…This includes, employers, public spaces, educational institutions, and in the home. Without addressing the social psychological triggers that continue the current culture of “women domesticity” we can not move toward a more balanced system.” 

Let’s move on to the next point.

Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences

This target directly ties in with a similar target for Goal 3;By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.”

This goal in particular is really important for the health of women as well as keeping the total population of humanity at a sustainable level. There are so many different facets to this issue; body autonomy, sexual autonomy, as well as reproductive, health, well being, and environmental facets. It is going to be impossible for me to cover all of this in any real depth.

With that in mind, Lupa has this to add to the conversation;

I would love to see all of their Goal 5 objectives met in my lifetime, but I’d be content just seeing “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” come to fruition by 2030.

See, the thing is, no one wants to talk about the impact that having children has on women. It is absolutely your right to reproduce if that’s what you want, but it’s also your right to say no to reproduction, even if you want to keep having sex. There are women out there who had more children than they would have preferred to because they didn’t have access to birth control and/or because they were victims of reproductive coercion. The same goes for some women who really didn’t want children at all, but who ended up with them for similar reasons…”

One of the most sustainable things we can do is to give women control over both their health, reproduction, and their sexuality. There is huge amounts of data that show the strong correlation between universal contraception and much more sustainable birthrates. In addition, there is increased control over family planning, and a lower incident rate of unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

Lupa goes on to drive this point home;

The goal, of course, is to raise the standard of living for everyone, and a great way to do that is to have fewer people to divide resources among. Yes, we need to focus on using fewer resources per person and using what we do have more reasonably and efficiently, but even when you’re living in really sustainable circumstances every additional person increases the demand for basic things like food, water and space to live. It’s just a matter of math. In areas where people live on pretty meager rations you still get deforestation and other habitat loss as the population grows. Studies show that when women have universal access to birth control, the birth rate drops dramatically. That’s good for the planet as well as people. “

As Lupa points out, the two big factors of sustainability are resources use per person, and the number of persons overall. Even assuming a much more equitable distribution of resources, the number of humans on the planet is still something we must address. As with so many other things, you cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet.

There is a great article on Vox that really details the population and affluence problem in greater detail. I highly recommend you check it out. The article gives a short formula to measure human impact on the environment;

Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology

Which means that we need to look at all these aspects of our species, as all of them have been going up, as has our environmental impact. Over the next century, population might reach as high as 11.2 billion, with continuing increases in inequality of both affluence and technology. But as the article points out, we know how to tackle these issues;

Luckily, we know the answer. It is family planning that enables women to have only children they want and choose, and education of girls, giving them access to income opportunities outside the home. We know that women, given the resources and the choice, will opt for smaller families.

Those are the two most powerful levers to bend the population curve. They are also, in and of themselves, an enormously powerful climate policy. When Paul Hawken and his team investigated and ranked carbon-reduction solutions for their Drawdown project, they found that the combination of the two (call it the female-empowerment package) carried the most potential to reduce greenhouse gases later this century, out of any solution.” – Vox

We will get to the Drawdown numbers later, but the fact remains that the best way we can make the world more sustainable for everyone is education, universal contraception, and family planning resources.

All of these goals hit on the need to change our mindset as well as our sociopolitical reality. We need to look at Women’s Rights far more holistically, and implement and fund strategic changes in order to create a more sustainable world. More than that, we need going to need everyone at the table to figure out the best way forward, and that is women as much as it is LGTQ+ folks.

There are countries in the world that can serve as models of how to do that.

Social Democracy

Women’s Rights in the Nordic Countries

It should come as no shock that the Nordic countries are some of the most equal countries in the world when it comes to gender equality. According to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report for 2016, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden are the top four countries when it comes to gender equality, as it is measured by the report. The report considers many criteria to assign a value between 0 (inequality) and 1 (equality). Some of these factors include the number of women in government positions, women’s educational achievement, women’s health, and the wage gender gap. Those four countries come in at .874, .845, .842 and .815 respectively.

Denmark is the outlier, which comes in at 19th with a score of .75.

The United States by contrast comes in at 45th, with a score of .722.

The stats for all these countries obviously show that there is more work to be done, and I don’t think there is any kind of “utopia” world that would allow any country to get a perfect score.

The Nordic countries are notable for a lot of gains in Women’s Rights, but there are some drawbacks too. To highlight just a few of the positives; we turn to the Huffington Post;

– 99% – 100% literacy across genders

– A huge amount of women in tertiary (university/college) level education

Women as a majority in the high-skilled work force

Mandatory parental leave, included paid time off and quite generous leave benefits

– All Nordic countries are in the top ten for percentage of women in parliament (44.7% in Sweden)

Yet, as the Washington Post points out, the Nordic countries also have a higher than EU average rate of intimate partner violence for countries so high on the gender gap report. A few factors of why this might are considered in the article; a higher reporting rate of domestic violence, or possibly a back-lash against the position of women in society.

While I won’t go into any more depth on that topic, it is clear we all have more work to do.

LGBT+ Rights in the Nordic Countries

It is no secret that the Nordic countries are some of the most progressive in the world when it comes to LGBT+ rights. Here is just a selection from various Wikipedia articles for the various countries;

Denmark 

“The rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Denmark are some of the most extensive in the world and a high priority.

Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1933… Denmark was the first country in the world to grant legal recognition to same-sex unions, in the form of “registered partnerships”… Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was entirely prohibited in 2004. Same-sex couples are allowed to jointly adopt since 2010,…Gays and lesbians are also allowed to serve openly in the military.”

Norway 

“Norway, like most of Scandinavia, is very liberal in regard to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights and Norway became the first country in the world to enact an anti-discrimination law that explicitly included sexual orientation within employment since 1981. Same-sex marriage, adoption, and IVF/assisted insemination treatments for lesbian couples have been legal since 2009. In 2016, Norway became the fourth country in Europe that passed a law allowing the change of legal gender solely based on self-determination.”

Finland 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Finland are some of the most progressive in the world. According to an annual ILGA report the Finnish LGBT legislation is among the most extensive and developed LGBT legislations in Europe.

Compared to fellow Nordic countries it ranks at the top outranked only by neighbouring Norway. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity has been legal in Finland since 1971 with “promotion” thereof decriminalized in 1999 and was declassified as an illness in 1981. Discrimination based on sexual orientation… was criminalized in 1995 and discrimination based on gender identity in 2005.”

Sweden 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in Sweden have been regarded as some of the most progressive in Europe and in the world. Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1944… Homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in 1979. Sweden also became the first country in the world to allow transgender persons to change their legal gender post-sex reassignment surgery in 1972 whilst transvestism was declassified as an illness. Transgenderism was declassified as a mental illness in 2008 and legislation allowing gender change legally without hormone replacement therapy and sex reassignment surgery was passed in 2013. After allowing same-sex couples to register for partnership benefits in 1995, Sweden became the seventh country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage countrywide in 2009. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression has been banned since 1987. Also, since 2003, gay and lesbian couples can adopt children, and lesbian couples have had equal access to IVF and assisted insemination since 2005.”

I don’t see much reason to go into any more depth at this point, though there is plenty more nuance that could be explored here. For now, I would like to look at how my home country of the USA compares to some of the Nordic countries.

How the US stacks up;

I live in the US, and frankly writing this article shows in stark relief how far we as a country still have to go when compared to many other countries. We have fallen behind on many significant measures, and nothing about the current political or administrative client gives me a lot of hope that will change any time soon. All along the way we are up against cultural, social, economic, and political obstacles.

I am not going to lie to you. If we want to change the direction this country is going, we are going to have to fight for every inch. We are going to have to fight embedded systems of repression and oppression on every conceivable level. Many of the powers that be are going to resist every inch, and we have to be prepared for that.

So let’s take a closer look at where we need to make changes.

Gender Equality and Women’s Rights

From Wikipedia on Gender Inequality in the US;

Gender inequality in the United States has been diminishing throughout its history and significant advancements towards equality have been made beginning mostly in the early 1900s. However, despite this progress, gender inequality in the United States continues to persist in many forms, including the disparity in women’s political representation and participation, occupational segregation, the gender pay gap, and the unequal distribution of household labor. In the past 20 years there have been emerging issues for boys/men, an achievement and attainment gap in education is a discussed subject. The alleviation of gender inequality has been the goal of several major pieces of legislation since 1920 and continuing to the present day. As of 2012, the World Economic Forum ranks the United States 22nd best in terms of gender equality out of 135 countries” (Wikipedia Gender Inequality in the US)

There is a lot to say here, so it difficult to know where to begin. Let’s start with the fact that Wikipedia cites the 2012 Gender Gap Report. Above we talked about the 2016 report, which shows that the US has dropped significantly. While the Nordic countries occupy the top spots on the report, the US has fallen over twenty spots from 2012 to 2016; now ranked #45 out of 144 countries. This not only shows that our progress on general equality has stalled, but has actually fallen a great deal.

We still have significant problems in, as is pointed out; in political representation, gender pay gap, and the fact that women often still perform the majority of household labor.

This has only been exacerbated since the 2016 election, when we have seen nothing but constant attacks on women’s health and sexual autonomy. Add in that unlike most major industrial countries, the US lacks a universal healthcare system, as well as no guarantees of decent contraception or family planning services. These too have been undermined repeatedly by primarily Republicans and religious organizations.

To make matters even worse, the US does not have any federal standards for paid parental leave. As the Business Insider points out;

Out of the world’s 196 countries, the US is one of only four that has no federally mandated policy to give new parents paid time off. That burden is placed on individual states and employers.” Business Insider

One of four countries. Really let that sink in. Also let it sink it that the health and well being of women is in the hands of individuals states and employers. Some of these entities have a long track record of not caring about women or their rights.

While there are some laws that protect time off for new mothers, that time is often UNPAID, which forces women to return to work due to financial stress. While many of the European countries, and especially the Nordic countries, have extensive and comprehensive parental leave programs… This is one area in which the US falls quite flat, as it leaves the decisions in the hands of states and employers which often results in a patchwork of substandard policies.

If the position of women in the US needs a lot of work, this applies more so to LGTQ+ rights; as is pointed out by Wikipedia;

In addition to the inequality faced by transgender women, inequality, prejudice, and violence against transgender men and women, as well as gender nonconforming individuals and individuals who identify with genders outside the gender binary, are also prevalent in the United States.” (Wikipedia Inequality in the US)

The fact is, that just like many other issues in the US, there is no federal law that outlaws LGTQ+ discrimination. Once again, this results in a patchwork of laws that vary greatly on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis. These laws runs the gamut from LGBT protections, to basically encouraging open discrimination. As the Wikipedia article on LGTQ+ rights in the US points out;

…the United States has no federal law outlawing discrimination nationwide, leaving residents in some states without protection from discrimination, other than from federal executive orders which have a more limited scope than from protections through federal legislation. Thus, LGBT persons in the United States may face challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents.“ (Wikipedia LGBT Rights in the US)

The data on this does not paint a pretty picture, and that is when there is data available. It is clear that we have a huge amount of work ahead of us. This will include changes in spirit, changes in culture, and changes in policy. This is the kind of work that can take decades, and it is important that we keep pushing for more progression in these issues. We more than have our work cut out for us, but the impacts cannot be understated.

I would like to turn to Drawdown now to drive this point home.

Drawdown

It cannot be understated how much of an impact it will have when we empowered half of the population. While there are only three solutions in the Drawdown section on Women and Girls, combined these solutions represents the #1 way to combat climate change, and could help remove more than 120 gigatons of C02 from the atmosphere.

That is more than onshore and offshore wind combined.

So let’s look a little bit closer.

Educating Girls 

As a stand alone solution, this one ranks as #6 out of 100, and has the potential to remove almost 60 gigtons of C02 from the atmosphere by 2050. As Drawdown points out, the two factors that influence family size and environmental impact the most are education and family planning. By opening up more educational opportunities to women and girls, we can also help combat climate change and build a more sustainable world. This would have to happen at all levels, from preschool up through university level. We could certainly roll in universal education here, as many European countries do.

The fact is that the education of women and girls not only reduces the number of children in later life, but also creates skilled, resilent, and well educated people to handle the problems of the future.

Family Planning 

Right behind the education of women and girls, is family planning. This solution comes in at #7, and can help remove an additional 60 gigatons of C02 from the atmosphere by 2050.

As Drawdown points out, high quality family planning services has benefits for womens health, welfare, and overall quality of life. It also will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The numbers are staggering. 225 million women in lower income countries want more control over their sexual autonomy, and want a say in whether or not they become pregnant. Even in higher income countries such as the US, some 45% of pregnancies are unintended. This is not helped at all by the constant effort by those in power to remove access from abortion, contraception, and family planning service to women across the country.

Health, welfare, and reducing our carbon footprint are all wins in my book.

Women Smallholders

I have already mentioned this solution before, but it needs to be mentioned again. Overall, this solution ranks as #62 overall, with a 2 gigaton reduction in C02 by 2050.

The fact is that women average about 43% of the agricultural workforce, especially in lower income countries. These women are often underpaid or unpaid, and lack the access to necessary resources to ensure productive yields as well as sustainable land management.

With better access to those resources, women throughout the world could help feed more people as well as reduce the need for further deforestation and reduce emissions.

I want to thank you for sticking with me through this article. I know it is a long one, but there is a lot to be said about Gender Equality, and much more to be done. I’ll give Lupa the last word here;

When we are all allowed to work together, instead of fighting with each other, we are more effective as communities and as a species. It’s really one of the most remarkable things about Homo sapiens sapiens, in just how intricate our social networks can be, and how deep our empathy may be rooted. By breaking down divisions and celebrating diversity, we are encouraged to cooperate and find joy in each other. We have more time and energy to put toward things that matter, instead of wasting it on hate. And isn’t that pretty damned sustainable?”

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/gender-equality/

http://ecopagan.com/

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions

http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/rankings/

https://www.thelocal.no/20161028/norway-classifies-third-on-gender-gap-report-2016

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/06/10/the-best-countries-for-gender-equality-may-also-have-a-domestic-violence-problem/?utm_term=.f1001922abb3

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/saadia-zahidi/what-makes-the-nordic-cou_b_4159555.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Denmark

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Finland

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Norway

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Sweden

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/08/18/shaping-a-living-world-part-10/

http://www.passblue.com/2015/05/17/no-room-for-lgbt-rights-in-the-new-un-development-goals/

https://www.hrc.org/blog/op-ed-what-does-the-uns-agenda-2030-mean-for-lgbt-people

http://www.businessinsider.com/countries-with-best-parental-leave-2016-8/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_the_United_States

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_inequality_in_the_United_States

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs239/en/

https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/9/26/16356524/the-population-question

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/11/14/shaping-a-living-world-part-5-b/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/11/13/shaping-a-living-world-part-5-a/

 


Shaping a Living World: Part 5-B

Hello again folks,

In my run up to Wednesday’s large post on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, I wanted to share another statement from a friend of mine that will be referenced in the piece.

This statement is from my good friend Kathleen O’Sullivan-Cook, a bisexual woman. She addressed each of my questions point by point, so I have edited it a bit for clarity. The Goal 5 Targets or my questions are in bold, and Kathleen’s responses are in italics;

 

As a woman, and a feminist. I fully support the premise of these initiatives. I have concerns about the idealistic natures of these goals given the current climate in America, but the importance of taking such a stance has its own influence. The fact that this is brought up at all is wonderful thing, yet conflicting with the fact that it needs to be brought up is despicable. All that has been said before, and will be said again I’m sure. To keep this brief, I’ll go through some highlights I have for each goal.

 

End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere. (Goal 5 Target)

  • Some of the points I have to make may seem redundant, but as someone living through the climate it seems necessary to repeat. The idealism of the UN’s goals also doesn’t cover specifics, nor for certain countries. So, most of my points will be spoken as women living in America. The goals need to include making sure all women are no longer excluded from key influential systems that help raise them to positions of power, such as higher education “fraternities” that give shoe ins to members. They also need to be included in influential public roles, such as more governorships, religious figureheads, and other authoritative roles. These exist, but are still limited, and in many ways highly conservative women currently in these roles. We need more open feminists in these roles.
  • This of course leads to my next point that these goals need to include making certain all employers give equal pay, and close the wage gap. While strides have been made, the current atmosphere is still that women take on around 50% more of the household chores than men, struggle to be single parents, still take on more care for elderly or sick parents above the rest, they are still consistently paid less than men and given less compensation. There needs to further be goals in place to help alleviate this major imbalance.
  • Although this may be covered under “Ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health” there needs to be strategies for equal child care, equal access to childcare services for men as well to allow men to take on childcare burden. There needs to be the same paternity leave and services for men the same as women to care for children. This falls back to my previous comments regarding women taking on more than their fair share of the domestic home. However, in this point, it needs to be discussed that men are also often shut out of these “domestic” spheres, not only by other men, but women as well. The imbalance in this area can sometimes be self-inflicted, where psychologically women feel threatened if men move into this area as it takes away some of what little power they have. Where in reality if this is opened up more, then women can find more freedom to pursue higher careers. But also employers must make the true efforts here, to allow freedom and family care for both sexes.
  • To further my previous point, there also needs to be strategies to combat microaggressions against women, and also against men who try to take on burdens that women carry. Only by alleviating microaggressions can we build up from the bottom to move away from some of the larger inherent discriminations and change the mentality that allows them. This includes, employers, public spaces, educational institutions, and in the home. Without addressing the social psychological triggers that continue the current culture of “women domesticity” we can not move toward a more balanced system.

 

Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation. (Goal 5 Target)

  • This goal should seem obvious, and yet still continues, and in many places in America people seem to encourage it, or at least do very little to stop it. Even here in Michigan which has one of the highest trafficking rates in the country, little seems to be done to combat it. As for violence, particularly private “domestic” violence, there is despicably little done to punish those who perpetrate the violence. Even our own police forces find it difficult to sympathize with women and girls when violence occurs. And yet, 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and hundreds of women die every day at the hands of their significant other. In America, many see this as a women’s place, and the right of the husband to do such things. Domestic violence also leads to child abuse and family poverty. On the other hand, men experience domestic violence as well. Child abuse from abused mothers has a terrifying correlation to adult male murderers. Violence against men is also underreported due our societal norms. Rape is also tied into all these factors, without going into that as well.

 

Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights…  (Ties in with Goal 3 target “By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes”) (Goal 3 & 5 Targets)

  • This goal is should be number one, as so many studies have shown that reproductive autonomy has so much bearing on so many other aspects of family life. Being able to control reproductive health will determine the nature of a woman’s relationship goals, family goals, education, wage earnings, and whether or not she has a career. This of course opens doors for more women to join in those public and authoritative roles as mentioned previously.
  • Such reproductive autonomy also has bearing on domestic violence and discrimination, although this may depend on the location and culture of the area this occurs in. This also ties into what I was saying before about microaggressions and changing perspectives to build up from to the higher systems.
  • There needs to be programs in place that incentivize fathers to first stay with their children, and make it easier for couples to work together when unexpected children arrive, and programs in place to help care for those children beyond what is in place now.
  • Stigmatization is also an issue, so working with lower socioeconomic areas to teach and give bias training is necessary. This all comes after pushing into higher unwanted birth rate areas to teach about reproduction and prevention.

 

While the Sustainable Development Goals do include some language that could promote LGBT rights (Goal 10, Goal 16, Goal 5), the goals have been heavily criticized for lacking any language that refers specifically to sexual orientation, gender identity, or LGBT more broadly. What are your opinions on this? (My question) 

  • It is a bit concerning that this wasn’t addressed at all, but this issue, although everywhere, appears to be a forefront in America, where in other countries, is much less of an issue, or isn’t looked at, at all.
  • Despite all that, it’s necessary to address these issues as they will grow further in all countries, and perhaps eventually in developing countries.
  • There needs to be specific language in some form that protects people’s rights for relationships as they wish and to address their needs and wants to do with their bodies as they want.

 

 


Shaping a Living World: Part 5-A

Hello again folks,

I have a big post coming up (much bigger than my usual) on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. I will be talking about Goal #5 – Gender Equality. In the coming article I will be talking about Women’s Rights and LGBT+ Rights.

In preparation for that piece (which I am hoping to post on Wednesday), I asked some of my Facebook friends if they wanted to weigh in on some of the points raised in response to the SDG’s. Two friends of mine weighed in, and with their permission I am going to post their statements for full context before publishing my own piece, that way I can link back to them when I use excerpts.

The first is from Lupa, who is a bisexual woman, and artist/author over at The Green Wolf.  Do be sure to check out her work!

What follows is Lupa’s full statement;

The fact that the UN recognizes gender equality as essential to sustainability is a big deal. At a time when women worldwide are still being oppressed* in numerous ways, to include in my own home country of the United States, it’s heartening to see this level of intersectionality in environmental justice. I would love to see all of their Goal 5 objectives met in my lifetime, but I’d be content just seeing “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” come to fruition by 2030.

See, the thing is, no one wants to talk about the impact that having children has on women. It is absolutely your right to reproduce if that’s what you want, but it’s also your right to say no to reproduction, even if you want to keep having sex. There are women out there who had more children than they would have preferred to because they didn’t have access to birth control and/or because they were victims of reproductive coercion. The same goes for some women who really didn’t want children at all, but who ended up with them for similar reasons.

The goal, of course, is to raise the standard of living for everyone, and a great way to do that is to have fewer people to divide resources among. Yes, we need to focus on using fewer resources per person and using what we do have more reasonably and efficiently, but even when you’re living in really sustainable circumstances every additional person increases the demand for basic things like food, water and space to live. It’s just a matter of math. In areas where people live on pretty meager rations you still get deforestation and other habitat loss as the population grows. Studies show that when women have universal access to birth control, the birth rate drops dramatically. That’s good for the planet as well as people.

Moreover, given that women have been frequently left out of discussions on How To Fix Big Problems, getting women more engaged in these things means that we now have twice the number of people to help make the world a better place. It’s not that childrearing is a bad thing; if you raise great kids who are full of empathy, that’s another way to improve the world. But when women are forced to ONLY be mothers and housewives, it limits the ways in which we can contribute as a group, and often our contributions are minimized, especially if we don’t have access to education. When women have birth control and then have fewer kids, it leaves more energy and time for education and community engagement. There’s also more time for having a small business, which can mean opportunities to develop sustainable ways of being.

I do wish there was more explicitly said about including QUILTBAG (queer, undecided, intersex, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, asexual, gay) people in the sustainability goals. They’re already trying to show gender equality through improving the status of women, but they ignore how the oppression of QUILTBAG people (whether female or not) can scupper sustainability efforts in the same way that the oppression of women does. Not only are you keeping a big group of people out of play in finding the solutions for the problems we face and implementing them, but oppressing them also means they’re less likely to find help for other sustainability issues, such as poverty and disability.

When we are all allowed to work together, instead of fighting with each other, we are more effective as communities and as a species. It’s really one of the most remarkable things about Homo sapiens sapiens, in just how intricate our social networks can be, and how deep our empathy may be rooted. By breaking down divisions and celebrating diversity, we are encouraged to cooperate and find joy in each other. We have more time and energy to put toward things that matter, instead of wasting it on hate. And isn’t that pretty damned sustainable?

* I can’t speak directly to the experiences of non-binary people and other folks who don’t fit in a male-female dichotomy, but given that there are plenty of folks who don’t even admit they exist, I think it’s safe to say they deserve gender equality as well.

 

 


Shaping a Living World: Part 4

“Democracy…is not a static inheritance that we can simply live off of, but an ideal that every generation must re-achieve through active effort. Schools are our chief cultural means for educating free citizens who can intelligently and creatively participate in this effort. Education is how we invest in the future of our democracy.” – The Conversation

I am of the generation that heard constantly that the route to a “better” life was through education, and the pursuit of a university degree. I am also of the generation that has seen the housing market collapse, continuous cutting of public funding, and the exorbitant growth of student loan debt.

Compared to many of my peers, I came out “lucky” with only about 30k in student loan debt for only two years of university study. The numbers on this are staggering, per at least one article on CNBC the US student loan debt is over 1.4 trillion and the US is the most expensive tuition rates in the world.

Now, it has to be admitted that the funding sources for the educational system (from Pre-K through university) are really complicated, and it would take a much longer piece to tease out all the nuance. All that aside, I think it is fair to say that education is both a public good, and a valuable method for skills training. A highly educated population is beneficial for the individual, for society, for the economy, as well as for democracy as a whole. I do not think this point can be overstated.

That being said, there is plenty of room for improvement our current education system. Once again, those problems are well outside the scope of this project. But there is certainly a lot of areas where we can do better, not only as a country but as a human civilization as well.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what the UN Sustainable Development Goals have outlined.

Sustainable Development Goals

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes.”

This first one is a no-brainer in my opinion. It it is pertinate that we as a global community make sure that every one of our citizens gets a reliable, consistent and affordable education. Most public school systems in the US provide K thru 12 primary school education that succeeds this goal. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. But that is really complex, and it the kind of thing that must be examined locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. I doubt there is any single “silver bullet” that will fix the plethora of educational problems, but it is a goal worth striving for.

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education so that they are ready for primary education.”

The next goals expands upon the earlier one, by going beyond both the primary school and secondary school system. This goal includes early child care, as well as Pre-K education in the United States. Making this kind of care open to all children is important preparation, and is also vital for child care.

By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.”

This is a very important issue, as the cost for higher education has been all over the board for the last decadeIn addition, the funding for public universities has generally gone down in the last decade, while the cost for higher education has gone up. This has been supplemented with a huge amount of student loans, which overall has shifted a huge amount of the cost, and the debt, onto students. As the CBPP points out;

These reductions in support have hurt states’ higher education systems. Public colleges have both steeply increased tuition and pared back academic opportunities, often in ways that may compromise the quality of education and jeopardize student success. Students are paying more through increased tuition and are taking on more debt. “

In order to make our education system more sustainable in the long run, we will likely have to increase funding significantly, and ease the burden on individual students and their families. I will talk more on this in a moment.

By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.”

Everyone should know how to read and be able to do math, period. This is a pretty self explanatory goal, so I will just move on at this point.

By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.”

Education is the means by which we perpetuate many of our skills and knowledge, and getting future generations involved shaping our sustainable future is of vital importance. Many of the values promoted here are important, including but not limited to; sustainability, gender equality, human rights, and peace. Our educational systems are one of many ways to promote these ideals, and the are certainly ideas we should be promoting.

Social Democracy

The Nordic countries and many countries in Europe approach education very differently than the US, especially higher education. In social democracies, education is often universal and paid for via higher tax rates. Each country does thing in a different way, and obviously there is a lot of nuance and detail that goes into each system.

But as a very brief preview, here are a few examples;

Germany: Regional governments across Germany have all abolished tuition over the past few years.

International students are also able to enroll without paying tuition.” (CNN Money)

More here from Wikipedia;

Public universities in Germany are funded by the federal states and do not charge tuition fees. However, all enrolled students do have to pay a semester fee… Summed up, the semester fee usually ranges between €150 and €350.” (Education in Germany)

Sweden

Sweden, along with most of the other Nordic countries also carries tuition free higher education, though admittedly with more restrictions. Oftentimes, such perks are extended to citizens of the country, or the EU.

The Nordic country offers tuition-free public education to citizens pursuing higher education, and the offer is also extended to students from the European Union. Other international students aren’t eligible.” (CNN Money)

Norway and Denmark are in similar circumstances.

Norway

There are no tuition fees for attending public higher education in Norway, as all the costs are covered by the Ministry of Education and Research.

Students are also given the opportunity to apply for financial support (a part loan/part grant) from the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund. The main requirement for support from Fund is that you are a Norwegian citizen. However, foreign citizens may also be entitled to financial support.”

(Higher Education in Norway

Finland

This article would not be complete with an honorable mention to Finland, which is regarded as one of the highest performing educational systems in the world. So what makes the Finnish system so unique?

Compared with the stereotype of the East Asian model — long hours of exhaustive cramming and rote memorization — Finland’s success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play.” (The Atlantic)

But surely it is worth exploring even deeper than that. According to the Nordic Business Insider , Finland has a better system that the US on several key points. First, it gets rid of the pressue to “teach to the test”

Finnish students only take one standardized test during their entire primary and secondary schooling…

By contrast, the US, driven by No Child Left Behind and Common Core mandates, requires students in third through eighth grade to take annual standardized tests to track their performance. Critics claim constant testing doesn’t make students any smarter but instead creates a “teaching to the test” environment in schools.”

The pressure of the US system creates an environment that reinforces the idea of doing well on standardized testing. There are plenty of arguments to be made that this creates a poor learning environment. More than this though, Finland also on the whole leaves it students with a lot more free time, and a lot less stress.

Students in Finland spend relatively little time on homework… Finnish students spend 2.8 hours a week on homework. This contrasts noticeably from the 6.1 hours American students spend per week. “

And of course, just like the other Nordic countries, Finland’s higher education system is pretty much tuition-free.

In Finland, not only are bachelor degree programs completely free of tuition fees, so are master and doctoral programs. Students pursue higher education goals without the mountains of student loan debt that many American students face. And the same goes for foreign students. Tuition is free for any student accepted into a college or graduate program in Finland.

This contrasts greatly with the US, where the average student loan debt now approaches $30,000…”

Yes, it even applies to international students provided they can get accepted into a Finnish university. Now, please don’t take my word as rote, and with the caveat if you want to attend university in any of these countries you should look into that for yourself. I am working with generalities here, so please don’t make important life decisions without doing your homework.

The last part struck me as ironic. Remember where I said I came out of university with about 30k in debt. I guess that makes me an average American.

Now, let’s look at Drawdown for just a second.

Drawdown

This is another one of the SDG’s where Drawdown doesn’t have a lot of input. As educational systems are really complex, there is a lot of policy and deliberation that goes into shaping them. As such, most of the reforms and change will probably happen at the policy level.

That being said, I think there is one important solution from Drawdown that must be mentioned here. As education is a universal process, it affects the whole of the population. It just so happens that half of that population is women and girls, and so their education is of vital importance. It is also a hugely impact way to combat climate change.

Educating Women & Girls

Education lays a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families, and their communities. It also is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health. “

The impact of removing systemic barriers to half the human population cannot be underestimated. This solution is ranked as #6 out of 100 solutions proposed by Drawdown. This solution alone would help to reduce C02 emissions by nearly 60 gigatons by 2050.

That brings this piece to an end. Our next goal is 05 – Gender Equality. I will be spending a lot more time talking about women’s rights and gender equality issues.

As always, thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/education/

http://theconversation.com/education-isnt-a-commodity-for-labor-79606

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/women-and-girls/educating-girls

https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-americans-keep-ignoring-about-finlands-school-success/250564/

http://nordic.businessinsider.com/finland-has-one-of-the-best-education-systems-in-the-world–here-are-4-things-it-does-better-than-the-us-2016-11/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Finland

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Development_Index

http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/2016_human_development_report.pdf

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/sep/20/grammar-schools-play-europe-top-education-system-finland-daycare

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/13/heres-how-much-it-costs-to-go-to-college-in-the-us-compared-to-other-countries.html

https://mic.com/articles/106866/the-average-cost-of-u-s-tuition-is-33-788-per-year-in-these-7-countries-it-s-free#.Ueo7ysZEo

https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2017/09/12/the-u-s-leads-the-world-in-tuition-fees-infographic/#3d9aef7f231e

http://money.cnn.com/2017/04/10/pf/college/free-college-tuition-new-york-europe/index.html

https://www.cbpp.org/research/a-lost-decade-in-higher-education-funding

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Germany

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Finland

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higher_education_in_Norway


Shaping a Living World: Part 3

For those that follow this blog in any regular fashion, you know that universal healthcare is one of my “big issues”. The long and short of that issue is; I think it is absurd that the wealthiest country in the world seems to have “trouble” caring for the basic needs of its citizens. It is absurd that people should have to choose between a prescription and food. It is absurd that people should have to declare bankruptcy because of outrageous medical bills.

As an animist, I believe that the world is full of people. People deserve basic respect and dignity, and for me this includes healthcare. A good, long, and healthy life should be the right of all, not a privilege.

Especially when you consider most other major industrial countries have already figured this out.

If you want to go into the details, I invite you to listen to the podcast by Dan Carlin here. He does a pretty good job about breaking down some of the more absurd parts of the USA’s healthcare system. In short; we spend a ridiculous amount of money for a relatively low-standard of care.

Now, I’m not going to be able to go into all the nuts and bolts of our healthcare system. It’s a hot mess and there is plenty of information out there are the internet. One of the sources Carlin uses can be found here

But basically, the takeaway is this;

Available cross-national pricing data suggest that prices for health care are notably higher in the U.S., potentially explaining a large part of the higher health spending. In contrast, the U.S. devotes a relatively small share of its economy to social services, such as housing assistance, employment programs, disability benefits, and food security. Finally, despite its heavy investment in health care, the U.S. sees poorer results on several key health outcome measures such as life expectancy and the prevalence of chronic conditions. “

It was announced last week that Bernie Sanders might unveil his plan for Medicare For All as soon as Wednesday this week, and that it also has been co-sponsored by both Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, who said;

“Everyone is covered,” she said. “Nobody goes broke paying a medical bill. Families don’t have to bear the costs of heartbreaking medical disasters on their own.”

Warren called health care a basic human right, adding that it’s “time to fight for it.” “

I agree whole-heartidly. If I am being frank, I think universal healthcare for the US is one of the most crucial issues of our day. Make no mistakes folks, we are going to have to fight for this one, pretty much like we have had to fight for everything else of value in this country. Whether its Civil Rights, Women’s Suffrage, Labor Rights, or Universal Healthcare; we have had to fight for it.

Yes, we need to accept this is going to be a long fight too. The current Congress and administration will be unlikely to pick up this issue at all. If it makes it out of committee will be partly up to our politicians. But more than that it will be up to us, the people of the nation, as well.

We will have to push this one, because there are a lot of forces that will be against this idea. Some Democrats will not supports this idea, as the vast majority of Republicans will not. It should also go without saying that both the Pharmaceutical Industry as well as Health Insurers will strongly oppose a move towards universal healthcare. All of their profits are invested in the status quo after all.

It is well past time we push for this issue. I don’t yet know the details of Sander’s plan, but we must keep in mind that there are many ways to do universal healthcare. I will talk about that a little later in this piece.

The point is, there is quite a bit of support for a type of universal healthcare.

It will be up to us, the people, to make sure it happens.

Now, let’s look at what the UN has to say about this;

Sustainable Development Goals

All UN Member States have agreed to try to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.” (World Health Organization)

Let’s make now mistake about this, and this is the most important component of this SDG in my opinion. As I have said in the first post in this series, over 193 countries aided in the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Per the quote above, every one of them have agreed to try and achieve universal health care coverage.

Now, it has to be admitted that UHC is a broad concept, and there are many different ways to approach this. There are many different models and styles that fall under UHC. The Affordable Care Act, for all its faults, would likely qualify as an attempt.

It should be obvious that a Medicare for All style healthcare system is quite a bit different than the ACA. It would be much more in line with what a lot of Europe and other countries do.

With that in mind, let’s take a deeper look at that;

Social Democracy

As far as this series is concerned, most of our focus has been on the Nordic countries. Those too will be the focus here. But I am also going to bring in a few other examples from Europe, as they will serve to give a good survey of the many different ways to do this.

58 countries in all have health systems that would be considered UHC. Wikipedia has this to say about the different funding models of various countries in Europe;

Almost all European systems are financed through a mix of public and private contributions. Most universal health care systems are funded primarily by tax revenue (like in Portugal Spain, Denmark, and Sweden). Some nations, such as Germany and France and Japan employ a multipayer system in which health care is funded by private and public contributions.” (Wikipedia )

The point being, most UHC systems have mixed revenue sources. Given the complexities of the American healthcare system, it is likely that the US would have to implement a similar system. Right now, Health Insurers are some of the largest private players in the American system. I would expect resistance from them.

However, depending on how we do it, there still might be a place for them. One thing is clear though; that there needs to be a primarily public revenue stream in any system we develop. Let’s look at some of the options. All that follows is from Wikipedia.

Denmark

Denmark has a universal public health system paid largely from taxation with local municipalities delivering health care services in the same way as other Scandinavian countries. Primary care is provided by a general practitioner service run by private doctors contracting with the local municipalities with payment on a mixed per capita and fee for service basis. Most hospitals are run by the municipalities (only 1% of hospital beds are in the private sector).”

Finland

In Finland, public medical services at clinics and hospitals are run by the municipalities (local government) and are funded 76% by taxation, 20% by patients through access charges, and 4% by others. Private provision is mainly in the primary care sector. There are a few private hospitals. The main hospitals are either municipally owned (funded from local taxes) or run by the medical teaching universities (funded jointly by the municipalities and the national government). According to a survey published by the European Commission in 2000, Finland’s is in the top 4 of EU countries in terms of satisfaction with their hospital care system: 88% of Finnish respondents were satisfied…”

France

France has a system of universal health care largely financed by government through a system of national health insurance. Nonetheless, not all medical care is paid for by the state, with only 70% of initial GP care covered and anywhere between 35% and 100% of prescription medication covered. It is consistently ranked as one of the best in the world.”

Norway

Norway has a universal public health system paid largely from taxation in the same way as other Scandinavian countries. Norway’s entire population has equal access to health care services. The Norwegian health care system is government-funded and heavily decentralized. The health care system in Norway is financed primarily through taxes levied by county councils and municipalities. Dental care is included for children until 18 years old, and is covered for adults for some ailments.

Norway regularly comes top or close to the top of worldwide healthcare rankings.”

Sweden

Sweden has a universal public health system paid largely from taxation in the same way as other Scandinavian countries. Sweden’s entire population has equal access to health care services. The Swedish public health system is funded through taxes levied by the county councils, but partly run by private companies. Government-paid dental care for those under 21 years old is included in the system, and dental care for those older is somewhat subsidised by it.

Sweden also has a smaller private health care sector, mainly in larger cities or as centers for preventive health care financed by employers.

Sweden regularly comes in top in worldwide healthcare rankings”

I hope this makes it abundantly clear that most of the best systems of healthcare in the world are often primarily funded through public means and taxation. The private sector does have a varying role to play in each of the systems, and in an American system is is likely the same would be true.

But first, we have to implement a Universal Health Care system. Then we can debate the details.

For the moment, let’s talk briefly about Drawdown.

Drawdown

Good Health is another one of the SDG’s that pretty much every solution proposed in Drawdown could apply to. Pretty much anything that keeps our air, water, and land clean is going to have benefits for both our individual health, and our health as society.

The economic savings from implementation of Drawdown alone would be significant. In addition, cleaner air and water would increase overall longevity and prevent a lot of treatable conditions such as asthma.

The World Health Organization estimates that millions of premature deaths can be linked to air pollution. This is to say nothing of clean water and land.

As such, I want to focus on just two of Drawdown’s solutions that directly impact individual health and sustainable living. Most other solutions will appear in other posts for this series.

Walkable Cities

Solution #54: 2.92 gigatons CO2 Reduction. $3.28 Trillion Net Operational Savings

Walkable cities prioritize two feet over four wheels through careful planning and design. They minimize the need to use a car and make the choice to forego driving appealing, which can reduce greenhouse gases emissions. According to the Urban Land Institute, in more compact developments ripe for walking, people drive 20 to 40 percent less. “

This one is pretty self evident, and the health benefits from being able to walk more regularly cannot be underestimated. In addition, cities that are designed for foot traffic need less cars, and less pollutants are created as a result. The cost savings are substantial as well. As this solution points out; “Health, prosperity, and sustainability go hand in hand.

Bikeable Cities

Solution #59: 2.31 gigtons CO2 Reduction. $400 Billion in Net Operational Savings

Copenhagen is considered the most livable city in the world, in no small part because it is the most bike-friendly. Thirty percent of Copenhageners ride to work, school, and market on 18 miles of bike lanes, and along three bicycle superhighways connecting Copenhagen to its outlying suburbs… “

I had to use the above quote, because it ties this piece so nicely together. Copenhagen is widely considered to be the greenest city in the world, and such it is a model worthy of emulation.

In addition, bringing together the Nordic health care model with the most sustainable city just reinforces exactly what I am talking about here. Sustainability and health go hand in hand.

There is a lot to learn from the Nordics; social democracy as well as healthcare. At this pojnt, America is well behind the ball, and we have a lot of catch up today. I hope you will join me and help build a better future for us all.

As always, thanks for reading!

 

Sources/References;

http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/349598-warren-co-sponsoring-sanders-medicare-for-all-bill

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/buildings-and-cities/bike-infrastructure

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/buildings-and-cities/walkable-cities

http://www.dancarlin.com/product/common-sense-314-unhealthy-numbers/

http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2015/oct/us-health-care-from-a-global-perspective

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_health_care

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/06/23/public-support-for-single-payer-health-coverage-grows-driven-by-democrats/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_with_universal_health_care

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs395/en/

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/air-pollution/en/

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/europeangreencapital/winning-cities/2014-copenhagen/