Tag Archives: sustainability

SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2017

The UN has released an update on the Sustainable Development Goals. I find the number of indicators a bit bewildering. It is interesting to dig into some of the thresholds and methods behind the indicators, and to see how individual countries score. I wonder though if countries are really using these metrics to guide their planning and policy decisions. I wonder if something a bit simpler (not simpler to compile, but simpler to interpret) like a GDP adjustment or ecological footprint would work better. If every country were in the “good” range for all these metrics, do we really know that the world would be sustainable in an absolute sense, meaning not exceeding the limits of our planet? These indicators instead seem to rank countries against each other, taking the countries doing the best in each category as the model for all the others. I wonder if the best the world currently has to offer is really the best we can aspire to in every category. Well, this is an academic question when there is clearly such a gap between the best and the worst, or even the best and the average. And I wonder if we will be patting ourselves on the back in the future because some percentage of countries met some percentage of these goals.

climate change starting to bite in Alaska

Bloomberg has an article about the effects of climate change in Alaska, and failure to deal with them. Surprisingly, it sounds like the state was making some limited strides under Sarah Palin but has completely dropped the ball since.

Across Alaska, in towns built on permafrost, rising temperatures are causing the ground to sink, damaging buildings and roads. In towns built on the coast, less sea ice means greater exposure to storms and floods. Drier conditions have led to more forest fires. Extreme weather killed or injured as many Alaskans in 2015 as in the previous 10 years combined. “Environmental change is not a theoretical in Alaska,” says Rick Thoman, the state’s climate sciences and services manager for the National Weather Service. “It’s happening, and it’s accelerating.”

Alaska was once at the vanguard of states trying to deal with global warming. In 2007, then-Governor Sarah Palin established a climate change subcabinet to study the effects of warmer weather and find policies to cope with them. Over three years, the legislature provided about $26 million in funding. But Palin’s successor, Republican Sean Parnell, disbanded the group in 2011. That year, Alaska withdrew from a federal program that provides funds for coastal management because of concern the program might restrict offshore oil extraction. Since then, lower oil prices, combined with dwindling production, have left the state with a budget crisis that’s among the worst in the U.S. Just when climate change is having real impact, Alaska has less and less capacity to deal with it…

Alaska is an extreme example of a national failure to prepare for climate change. Across the U.S., state funding for environmental projects, such as beach erosion control or upgraded sewage systems, peaked in 2007, even as capital expenditures have since risen 25 percent. States along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts have resisted adopting the latest model building codes designed to protect residents against storms and other extreme weather.

Along with its failure to deal with climate change, it sounds like Alaska has squandered its oil wealth. It could have converted its natural capital in financial capital that future generations could use to deal with the consequences of extracting those natural resources – pretty much a textbook definition of sustainability. It’s not the only failure at the state level – my home state of Pennsylvania could have used royalties from the shale boom to reduce its enormous state and municipal pension mess, but it didn’t and it’s mostly too late now.


best cities for living without a car

We’re number 5! Well, that might not sound so good, but in a country where there just aren’t many practical living choices that don’t require a car, I think it’s pretty good. I also found this graphic (is this a “bump chart”?) from Redfin interesting.

Source: Redfin.com https://www.redfin.com/blog/2017/02/the-best-cities-for-living-without-a-car.html

the G20 and “green finance”

According to this article, the G20 is making a commitment to “green finance”.

The conventional economic-development model viewed environmental protection as a “luxury good” that societies could afford only after they became rich. Such thinking explains why the dramatic growth in global income, 80-fold in real terms during the last century, has been accompanied by a decline, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, in natural capital in 127 of 140 countries…

But China is already taking concrete steps in the right direction. On August 30, President Xi Jinping presided over a decision by the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms to transform China’s financial system to facilitate green investment. The so-called “guidelines for establishing a green finance system” adopted at the meeting represent the world’s first attempt at an integrated policy package to promote an ambitious shift toward a green economy.

According to the guidelines, China will have to develop a wide range of new financial instruments, including green credit, green development funds, green bonds, green equity index products, green insurance, and carbon finance. It must also introduce a host of specific policies, regulations, and incentives, including innovative use of the central bank’s relending operations, interest subsidies, and guarantees. And it must establish a national-level Green Development Fund, much like the United Kingdom’s Green Investment Bank.

biodiversity and ecosystem services in decisions

Here’s an “open-source software tool for integrating biodiversity and ecosystem services into impact assessment and mitigation decisions“.

Governments and financial institutions increasingly require that environmental impact assessment and mitigation account for consequences to both biodiversity and ecosystem services. Here we present a new software tool, OPAL (Offset Portfolio Analyzer and Locator), which maps and quantifies the impacts of development on habitat and ecosystem services, and facilitates the selection of mitigation activities to offset losses. We demonstrate its application with an oil and gas extraction facility in Colombia. OPAL is the first tool to provide direct consideration of the distribution of ecosystem service benefits among people in a mitigation context. Previous biodiversity-focused efforts led to redistribution or loss of ecosystem services with environmental justice implications. Joint consideration of biodiversity and ecosystem services enables targeting of offsets to benefit both nature and society. OPAL reduces the time and technical expertise required for these analyses and has the flexibility to be used across a range of geographic and policy contexts.

Integration of ecological-biological thresholds in conservation decision making

Here’s another attempt to link ecological and economic systems:

Integration of ecological-biological thresholds in conservation decision making

In the Anthropocene, coupled human and natural systems (CHANS) dominate and only a few natural systems remain without drastic human influence. Conservation criteria, such as many of those proposed by conservation biologists and ecologists with reference to areas of minimal human impact, are not relevant to much of the biosphere. On the other hand, conservation criteria delineated within economics are problematic with respect to their ability to arrive at operational indicators of well-being that can be applied in practice over multi-generational time spans. CHANS are subject to the process of economic development which, under current management structures, tends to afflict natural systems and transgress planetary boundaries. Hence, designing and applying conservation criteria applicable in real world systems where human and natural systems need to interact and sustainably coexist is essential. By both recognizing the criticality of satisfying basic needs as well as the great uncertainty over the needs and preferences of future generations, the current paper seeks to incorporate strict conservation criteria into economic evaluation. Specifically, these criteria require the conservation of environmental conditions such that the opportunity for intergenerational welfare optimization is maintained. In this direction, we propose the integration of ecological-biological thresholds into decision-making and use as an example the planetary boundaries approach. As such, both conservation biologists and economists must be involved in defining operational ecological-biological thresholds which can be incorporated into economic thinking and reflect the objectives of conservation, sustainability and intergenerational welfare optimization. As a result, we delineate the axioms of an operational framework of sustainability and hence set the basis for an interdisciplinary research agenda.

election season

I try not to get too political on this blog, but as we approach the election season, I have to say that I am just sick of the Republican candidates. These are not serious grownups proposing serious grownup solutions to real problems. We have problems like financial instability, food and water security, sea level rise, economic stagnation, weapons of mass destruction, and global issues of war and peace that need serious attention. There is no time to waste on bullshit. Some are suggesting a GOP implosion is a real possibility.

So what caused the current rebellion in the GOP ranks? It finally dawned on loyal foot soldiers in the odd-couple coalition that they were being taken for suckers. Their causes always seemed to get the short end of the stick. The GOP made multiple promises and fervent speeches on the social issues, but, for one reason or another, the party establishment always failed to deliver.

This belated realization stirred the anger that has flared across the ranks of the followers — and not just in the South. The financial crisis, the bailout of the banks, and collapsing prosperity intensified their sense of betrayal. People began mobilizing their own rump-group politics to push back. The tea party protests were aimed at President Obama, of course, but they were also an assault on Republican leaders who had misled and used the party base for so long. Tea party revenge took down long-comfortable legislators and elected red-hot replacements who share the spirit of rebellion…

If my lobbyist friend is right, the Republican establishment brought this crisis on itself by cynically manipulating its own rank and file. The party can’t deal with the real economic distress threatening the nation as long as rebellion is still smoldering in the ranks. Of course, that suits the interests of the country-club and Fortune 500 wing of the party — the last thing they want is significant economic reform. Confusion and stalemate have their political uses. On the other hand, the GOP can’t give the tea party rebels what they want without darkening its electoral prospects for 2016. Chaos to be continued.

I try not to get overly political on this blog, but I will be starting to think and talk about policies that relate to growth, sustainability, and risk and the upcoming election season.

guns, germs, and porcines

At last, here is a grand unified pork-centric theory of history.

Many people, for many different reasons, rejected pork in the ancient Near East. Largely arid, it was a land of sheep, goats, and cattle. Nomads didn’t keep pigs because they couldn’t herd them through the desert. Villages in very dry areas didn’t keep pigs because the animals needed a reliable source of water. Priests, rulers, and bureaucrats didn’t eat pork because they had access to sheep and goats from the state-focused central distributing system and considered pigs filthy. Pigs remained important in only one place: nonelite areas of cities, where they ate waste and served as a subsistence food supply for people living on the margins.

Later the Greeks and Romans were both huge fans of pork, which I didn’t know.