Global Rate of Consumption Reaches 1.5 Planets; America Reaches 4.

The rate at which Americans use natural resources is strikingly unsustainable; yet, they are not alone. Fortunately, the WWF has come up with some ways to fix it.

The planet is suffering from man’s demand for food, water, ipads, and airplanes. Not only are we over consuming our natural resources at an unsustainable rate, but the amount of biodiversity in many parts of the world is dramatically declining. In order to combat this problem, the WWF, one of the world’s largest conservation organizations, has laid out a global plan.

According to the recent WWF Living Planet Report, the rate of resources we consume globally in one year requires 1.5 years time for the Earth to regenerate the renewable resources used, and absorb the CO2 waste produced. Think about that stress on our Earth’s resources, year after year, without time to recuperate and replenish.

Although this statistic may seem high, consumption is expected to increase during the next decades. One main factor will be the increase in population and economic growth in countries like Brazil, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa – often called the “BRIICS” for their recent economic success. As developing countries grow, they are going to demand lifestyles and consumption rates similar to those seen in fellow “rich” countries. If they attempt to attain lifestyles similar to Americans, we’ll need 4 planets worth of resources to meet these demands.

Source: WWF Living Planet Report 2012

So, what are we supposed to do? In the Living Planet Report, the WWF has defined 5 areas in which our current global system needs to focus their efforts:

Preserve Natural Capital by focusing on significantly expanding the “global protected areas network”; stopping further loss of what the WWF calls “priority habitats”; and restoring already damaged ecosystems and ecosystem services.

Produce Better by working to work to reduce inputs and waste creation in our current production systems –making them more efficient.

Consume More Wisely with a specific focus on shrinking the Ecological Footprint of “richer” populations and on helping emerging economies toward sustainable consumption levels and renewable energy sources.

Redirect Financial Flows toward investments, policies and products that “support and reward conservation, sustainable resource management and innovation”. To help this process, WWF suggests implementation of a globally accepted system for measuring the value of natural capital in financial analysis and integrating of the social and environmental costs of production into accounting statements.

Equitable Resource Management which involves promoting the transition to resource-efficient cities; implementing policies to analyze and manage competing land and water use claims; and measuring success “beyond GDP”, by including environmental measures and human well-being.

Source: WWF Living Planet Report 2012

According to the WWF, “implementing such a paradigm shift will be a tremendous challenge. We all face uncomfortable choices and trade-offs, but only by taking brave, informed decisions can healthy, sustainable and equitable human societies be ensured, now and into the future.”

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For more information, you can visit the WWF Living Planet Report at www.panda.org/lpr


The Disposable Lifestyle: How Convenience has Harmed our World.

My first attempt at a video blog. Enjoy!

VLOG – EOI Marketing from Amy Blyth on Vimeo.


Managing the Environment is a challenge, and requires a significant amount of information and careful planning.

In our classes on Environmental Resource Management, our professor has asked us to write mini blogs regarding our thoughts on the subject, and a “tag line” for the classes. So, here goes: class one.

Managing the Environment is a challenge, and requires a significant amount of information and careful planning.

In our first classes, we discussed our goals for the class and spoke about some interesting examples of resource and environmental management.

Did you know that Spain and Portugal are some of the biggest producers of cork? And that the cork, which is the “bark” of the tree, when extracted may actually have some benefit to the ecosystem in which these trees live?

The extraction of the bark, to produce cork stoppers and other cork products does not actually harm the trees, in fact, it regrows, making it a sustainable resource – when harvested properly. Studies have found that is actually is good for the ecosystem to harvest, properly, the think bark layer. Our professor is to try and help maintain the wine industry’s interest in cork stoppers, which are much more expensive than their new, plastic, competitors.

Who would have thought?

We also spoke about several technical terms, and their challenges in terms of environmental management. One that particularly interested me was the idea of habitat fragmentation.

A habitat is the conditions required for one species to survive.When a species habitat is fragmented, often by human infrastructure and development, species can be greatly affected, as groups may be separated or they could lose all together their optimal habitat for survival:

What can we do about it?  Work on making connections between these habitats:

And make sure that connectivity is incorporated in construction planning when infrastructure is placed within animal habitats.


Economic Growth, American Politics and NeoLiberalism

Over the Holidays, I have found myself having several conversations regarding Microfinance: its benefits, its costs, the theory behind its popularity, the practical results on the ground, and why so many people – especially in the US – believe that helping the small entrepreneur will innately help the rest of the population.

The latter specifically became a rather heated discussion in my household as it feeds directly into the Republican vs. Democrat debate.

My mother, a devout Republican and small business owner in the US, is a firm believer that by hurting small business, you will inevitably hurt the working class. Businesses are what provide jobs and security to the working class. If businesses have to pay higher taxes or are unable to acquire capital, they will be unable to support their workforce. Therefore, if the government would be less restrictive on business, America could “get back to work” and pull itself out of the recession. This idea was concisely expressed by Terry Paulson, Republican political columnist, during the recent election:

Romney/Ryan will incentivize investors and entrepreneurs to get America working again… Instead of raising taxes, Romney/Ryan will cut taxes and spending while increasing federal revenue when more companies are making a profit, more people are working, and wages are growing. It’s time for free enterprise to do what Washington can never do–create jobs, jobs, jobs!

During our discussion, I could not stop thinking about how similar this “mantra” is to that of NeoLiberalists.

NeoLiberalism stems from “Classic Liberalism” which was founded by the “grandfather of Economics”, Adam Smith, in Wealth of Nations. Sound familiar? Remember the “Invisible Hand”?

The “Neo” in Neo-Liberalism comes from a rebirth and development of these classic ideas during the Cold War by several economists including, an notable economist named Milton Freidman.

Defined by its basic principles, NeoLiberalism theory states:

Following this logic, at the international level NeoLiberalism theory argues:

Sounds good, right?

For a lot of people, NeoLiberalism makes sense. It is what I learned during my studies at UCLA: economic models prove its “efficiency” and the global capitalism in which we live today was built from its ideas. Famous political leaders such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher subscribed to it and organizations such as the WorldBank, World Trade Organization (WTO), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were built around the theory:

If we let the markets run freely, business will grow and economic benefit will “trickle down” to the bottom of society. Free market competition is the best way to promote growth and alleviate poverty:

But, has this really worked? Has NeoLiberal theory helped the poorest groups get “lifted out” of poverty?

If we look at global incomes published in 2008, we see that there is a dramatic problem is income inequality:

In a report done by the World Bank in 2008, almost half of the world, about 3 billion people, lived on less than $2.50 a day. 80% of the worlds population lived on less than $10 a day.

In the US, where trade liberalization and capitalism has, arguably, been the least regulated compared with other “industrialized” countries, the divide between the rich and poor is the highest :

However, interestingly Americans believe that the income distribution is much more equal than it really is:

The perception is that the bottom two-fifths of the population (the purple and light blue quadrants) are doing vastly better than they really are.

Here’s a graph showing the change in incomes for the top 1% and the bottom 99% of Americans since the 1970s.

The average income for the top 1% has increased nearly threefold, whereas the income of the remaining 99% has decreased slightly.

So, where is the “trickle down” effect we were promised by following the NeoLiberal Model?

We have grown the world economy as a whole, but what about the individual wealth of the average person? Why are we following a model that allows for such deep inequality? And what does our future look like if we continue to follow the same path?

Some food for thought….

For a more detailed explanation on these ideas, you can watch this lecture given by Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize recipient in Economics:


DP – Microfinance: The Grameen and BRAC Experience

Two of the most widely recognized Microfinance Institutions in the world today are both located in Bangladesh.

The Grameen Bank was founded by Mohammed Yunus in 1976. Since then, they have loaned nearly 13 billion US Dollars to almost 4.5 trillion borrowers. In November of 2012, the bank had 8.4 million active borrowers with more than one billion US Dollars in outstanding loans. The Grameen Bank’s repayment rate for all its loans is nearly 97%.

The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) was started in 1972 as a relief organization following the War of Liberalization.  In the early 1970s, BRAC began lending microcredit to landless people in some of its development projects.  In November of 2012, BRAC had 5 million active borrowers with outstanding loans totaling 725 million US Dollars. BRAC has a repayment rate of 99.36%.

In Bangladesh, the poor account for an incredible one fifth of the total loan portfolio for the entire country.

Both microfinance institutions (MFIs) follow a similar structure in the way that they lend to their borrowers; they provide “solidarity group lending” in which loans are given to individuals of the group.  In order to receive a loan from one of the institutions, you must be part of a lending group. Every member is accountable to, and liable for, all the other group members’ loans.  Given that the poorer communities in Bangladesh lack financial capital or assets that can be used as collateral for loans, these lending groups act as a form of “social capital”:

These organizations have become increasingly powerful and important to the economic environment in Bangladesh. Given their financial statistics they seem to be doing rather well.  But, are they having the desired economic impacts set out by their organizations? 

 


Frustrations from the World’s Youth at the UN Climate Conference

For the past two weeks, leaders from over 190 countries have been negotiating the future of climate change at this year’s UN Conference on Climate.

The negotiations have taken place between member countries of the UN international treaty titled the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  The treaty was ratified at the Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro in 1992.  The ultimate objective of UNFCCC is “to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system”.

Since the UNFCCC was established, the member states (today totaling 194) meet annually at the Conferences of the Parties (COP) to “assess progress in dealing with climate change”. This year’s COP, the 18th since its inauguration in 1994 (referenced as COP18), is being held in Doha, Qatar.  One of the main issues being addressed this year is the future of greenhouse-gas emission reduction and the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire at the end of this month.

The conference began with some very dark projections from international organizations like the World Bank and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  In a UNEP report, published just before the beginning of COP18, they state that in 2010 greenhouse-gas emissions rose to 50.1 gigatons of carbon equivalent.  This figure represents a 25% increase from 2000, and is 14% higher than the projected emissions required (44 gigatons) to maintain the desired 2°C increase in climate temperature; the 2°C increase that scientists believe is the “threshold” to avoid “dangerous” climate change.

Naderev M. Saño, the lead negotiator from the Philippines, gave an extremely heart wrenching appeal to world leaders this week:

writes:

I swallow my tears, trying to hold my emotion back as it rises up from my chest. This is the delegation I want, the delegation that reflects the urgency the American youth–the world’s youth–so desperately want from their leaders. When I sit back, reflecting on how the world would be if my delegation was more like the Filipino delegation, the chasm between what is and what should be is staggering and the weight of that reality burdens my heart and my conscience. When the U.S. asks what its youth wants from it, it’s this. This moment, this humanity, this leadership.

Hodgen’s words express the aspirations, and deep frustrations, of the world’s youth – both those that have been at COP18, and those that have been watching all over the World. The world’s youth are desperate for strong leadership. They are looking for leaders who are willing to make the difficult decisions needed in order to provide a better future for generations to come.

For years now, youth organizations have been present at COP.  They have watched as delegates enter and exit the meetings, arguing over the technical details of each annex of the agreement, including how much money “rich” countries should give to “developing” countries in order to help pay for climate adaptation and reparation.  Yet, the bigger issue of climate mitigation is not being solved.

While older generations continue to squabble over numbers, the world’s youth have consistently been shut out of the negotiation rooms and have been unable to take part in international decisions.  Decisions that will directly impact their future, and their viability, on this planet.

This issue was brought up to UN Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres and COP 18 President His Excellency Mr. Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah.  Ms. Figueres responded:

This process welcomes the impatience of youth. This is about your life. We welcome the healthy impatience of youth. At the same time, we must understand that this process will require a commitment for change of the financial structure of the world. We [negotiators and policy makers] are very far behind what the science tells us we should be doing.

Given that the UNFCCC was written to be a “strict intergovernmental process”, youth groups do not have much of a voice in these proceedings. Therefore, youth associations do what they can to influence those that have the ability to negotiate.

In 2009, for example, youth from all over the world came together to promote the 350 International Day of Climate Action (350 being the amount of parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere that is safe for humanity. We are currently at about 392).  The movement was later described by CNN as “the most widespread day of political action in our planet’s history.”

This year, at COP18, youth groups have come together again to share ideas, information, and resources in order to help create awareness and influence. Youth groups like YOUNGO and SustainUS planned awareness campaigns that were held outside of the conference rooms:

On the International Youth Climate Movement’s website, there are pictures of additional youth campaigns and protests from COP18.

Notably, the youth group Region’s Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM) led a historic Climate March in Doha on Saturday, December 1st.  It is believed to be Qatar’s first ever demonstration, and was approved by the Qatari Government.

Despite the large volume of appeals from the world’s youth, no revolutionary agreement has been reached at COP18. 

As of Friday night, an agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol, set to expire at the end of this month, had not been reached.  Some critics believe that negotiations were halted due to “a host of reasons, though most developing nations blame rich countries like the United States, Canada and Japan for refusing to sign an interim successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol that would bind them to emissions reductions.”

Saturday morning, COP18 delegates agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol for another eight years, however, Japan, Russia, and Canada have pulled out of the agreement. Therefore, the only international agreement on climate change in effect today binds 35 countries to emissions reductions and leaves out some of the world’s biggest polluters including the US and China. The Kyoto protocol will regulate only 15% of world emissions.

World leaders have agreed to continue to work on a new global emissions agreement for 2015, which would take effect in 2020.

The older generations have decided to, yet again, finance their present interests with the youth’s future.

Before we see truly effective climate mitigation, we may have to wait until today’s youth become the official delegates they are now watching enter the negotiation room.

Unfortunately, at that point, it may be too late to avoid extreme climate disaster.


DP: Microfinance and its Increasing Popularity

About a year ago, I was first introduced to the idea of microfinance through the website Kiva.org. I was fascinated by the idea and inspired by the organization. In fact, last year instead of purchasing Christmas presents for my family members, I donated $100 to the Kiva website and my family and I chose entrepreneurs from the website to invest in.

The idea of directly investing in an entrepreneur’s personal development from halfway across the world was something really exciting. As my parents themselves are entrepreneurs, they liked the idea that they were not “donating” money, but rather “investing” in fellow entrepreneurs. It is not a donation, it is a loan; this is not only important for us, but is also important for the borrowers. They are improving their own economic situation.

As Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva, explains in her TED Talk, when she went to Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania:

I never once was asked for a donation, which had kind of been my mode, right. There’s poverty, you give money to help — no one asked me for a donation. In fact, no one wanted me to feel bad for them at all. If anything, they just wanted to be able to do more of what they were doing already and to build on their own capabilities.  Because the best way for people to change their lives is for them to have control and to do that in a way that they believe is best for them.

The idea of being able to allow people to improve their own lives, in their own manner, was what really attracted my family and I to microfinance.

My family and I lent $50 to two borrowers in Kiva last Christmas.

The first loan went to a woman named Agnes, a single mother of three children from Kenya.  She owns a small wine and spirits business and a small clothing business.  She had asked for a loan of KES 70,000 loan, or $800, in order to purchase more inventory and grow her business.  She belongs to a microfinance institution (MFI) called Yehu Microfinance Trust that works with Kiva.  31 lenders from the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia helped fund her loan.  As of this month, Agnes has paid back 90% of her loan – with all payments made on-time.

The second person was a man named Faxruz from Azerbaijan.  He is an internally displaced person from the city of Fuzuli and is currently living in the town of Alixanli.  Faxruz raises sheep and had asked for a loan of 2,000 AZN, or $2,550, to buy more sheep and grow his business.  His loan was funded by 83 lenders from North America, Europe, and Australia.  Since his loan was for a larger quantity, his payment plan is a lot longer. As of this month, he has repaid 50% of his loan – with all payments made on-time.

With the money that has been repaid, my family has selected two additional women to reinvest the money repaid. We gave two new loans of $25 to each borrower.  We plan to keep lending the initial $100 invested to new entrepreneurs every time our repayments total $25 – the minimum amount allowed to loan to an individual. It feels great to know that we have been able to directly help 4 families work to improve their own futures.

My mother has become especially passionate about choosing the new borrowers; she loves participating in the experience. People from all over the world have become very involved in their Kiva experiences. They share their excitement via social networks like Facebook and Twitter, feeling fulfilled in their ability to help others.  According to their last statistics update, Kiva alone has lent a total of $376,456,100, from 847,759 lenders to 916,381 borrowers in 499,110 loans.  The average number of loans made per Kiva Lender is 9 loans. Microfinance websites like Kiva have become a great platform to link people with a surplus of capital with those who would like to gain additional capital.

 


DP: Microfinance: An introduction

Over the last few decades, Microfinance, or Microcredit, has become a popular mechanism for economic development and poverty reduction.

The term microcredit can be defined as “programmes that extend small loans to very poor people for self-employment projects that generate income, allowing them to care for themselves and their families” (From the Microcredit Summit, 2-4 February 1997).

This “contemporary” idea of microfinance is widely believed to have been created by Mohammad Yunus, who began lending to poor women in Jobra, Bangladesh in the 1970s.  He later founded his own Microfinance institution (MFI) known as the Grameen Bank. In 2006, Yunus, along with the Grameen Bank, won the Nobel Peace Prize for “their efforts to create economic and social development from below”.

However, microfiance is not a new concept; it has played a large role in civil society for centuries and has taken several different forms, outside of the modern, formal banking sector.

In Latin America, for example, the use of Tandas among poor populations is the most popular form of saving and financing. Tandas are formed among a small group of people who agree to give a specific amount of money to the Tanda every week.  The collected money each week is then given to one of the Tanda members on a rotating basis.  Each member will receive the total amount of the Tanda one week during the arrangement.  This system has proven to be a popular model for those communities in which “modern” financial services through the banking sector are not available.  A good list of the different types of microfinancing can be found on the Grameen Bank Website.

 


Why Sustainable Development and Corporate Social Responsibility?

Hello world!

I thought I would start this blog with a brief explanation about why I am at EOI, and why I am passionate about sustainable development and corporate social responsibility.

There is so much more that I could say than what is written in this short post (I hear it is best to keep these things short and to the point…); however, I believe this little introduction is a good way to “get my feet wet” in the world of blogging.

Folks, this is my first experience in the “blogosphere”, so bare with me.

As many of you already know, our world is running out of resources.
The world population is growing.
As countries are developing, the global energy demand is increasing.
Water resources are reaching critical levels.
We are warming our planet.

Just to name a few…

Understanding our environmental problems has become a bit of an obsession of mine in recent years. It has raised a lot of personal questions about how I want to live my daily life, and what I would like to do in the future.

It is bit overwhelming to think about, as these questions are not easy to answer – for anyone. However, my hope for this year is to really get below the surface of the ideas developed in this Master – Social Entrepreneurship, Human/Social/Economic Development, CSR, Sustainability… –  and to begin to understand where I fit in this giant, complex puzzle.

I am excited to have embarked on this journey here at EOI, and will continue to share some of my personal reflections, experiences, and any interesting tid-bits learned along the way.

Welcome to my blog!

(How’d I do on post #1? …)



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