Reflections: Justainability & Urban Environment Problems

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Here are some of the thoughts I had after reading the three papers. Please note the (italic) text and provide examples, disagreements or anything I have missed.

URBAN ENVIRONMENT PROBLEMS:

Addressing environmental problems is a concern for several international development organizations. The paper discuses the definition of “environmental” problems as one of the obstacles to proper handling of the problem and allocating appropriate funding. Although this is true to a large extent, it is valid to argue that international aid is also bound by geopolitical forces and interest of the donating agency. Providing funding to address environmental problems is usually part of a larger cooperation agreement between governments or international agencies and therefore is derived by the interest and the agenda of the international agency.

The definition is indeed a problem and this wide range (broad Vs narrow) of understanding plays a role in identifying and measuring the success of the program.

The challenges addressed in this paper seem to be common across the developing world. From previous experience I can reflect and provide examples as follow:

(1) Decision by central government is taken far from the location context and with absence of good knowledge of the context.

— the central government in Egypt developed a prototype for housing for the poor and named it (Taweteen). Spreading it out to remote areas of the country makes it extremely irrelevant and not suitable for the local tribes in the southern border near Sudan. This is because the lack of suitable design and absent of knowledge of the local conditions in such a remote area.

(2) Broad definitions is a problem, especially that most f the environmental and health issues are related to lack of infrastructures (i.e. water & sanitation).

— the environmental component of upgrading project end up of being a construction project instead of looking at the real environmental issues and resolve it. Again the absence of (appropriate technology) sometimes lead environmental improvement programs to be limited to installing pipes and provide urban utilities without proper needs assessment.

(3) Stand alone initiatives Vs Main stream: The paper here argues that main stream is more important. Although this seem to be valid to a large extent. It is important not to ignore specific conditions where stand alone initiatives can also be equally important. Especially in initiatives that are newly introduced and can not be part of the original development framework. A good example is the initiatives of developing green stars for tourism establishments that consider all sustainability elements. It would not be a successful one if addressed as a continuation of the existing rating system. (Folks, if you have other examples, please share)

(4) Pressure from Northern environmentalist.

— Either it is a blind copy of the developed world or a post colonial influence or looking forward to implementing good environmental practices from the North, the gap remains wide between the targeted and the achievable practices. A good step forward to transfer the good practices within the same region before looking forward to importing what might not work well from the North.

The table in the paper is consistent in addressing the hazardous and the grouping by “scale” seem to be one of the appropriate categorizations to address the environmental hazards.

JUSTAINABILITY

I enjoyed this paper so much. And I fully agree that in absence of economic justice and political will, all sustainability efforts are wasted and become individual initiatives.

Although racial segregation might not be the main problem in some parts of the world, class segregation remain the dominating scheme in many countries. So even if the paper is about race, the injustice remain a challenge in many countries around the world.

“Greening is not only our responsibility, it is our right”

an amazing statement that, to me, a philosophy that I have taken in my life and it is the main principle of several NGOs I engaged with. The challenge here seems for the first while to be a (technical) concern (what and how to make it Green). While in fact, and from experience in several development countries, it has a political side where greening is against the interest of major stakeholders and capital control group.

Green economy and sharing wealth is an entire dilemma and without this level of realization, developing countries will not move forward. It should start from the country constitution, the country leadership, the top management in governments and corporates. Otherwise it will remain a nice green tag that will be limited to success stories on a website.

ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY

In the first paragraph this sentence stroked me: “… the urban poor are less directly dependent on natural resources for their livelihood…..”  Although I understand the argument here, but I think it doesn’t seem valid to generalize. Do you agree with me? Or you think we can generalize? Any Examples?

Helping the poor shall not be contradicting with protecting the future. I am not sure why the argument is framed in such a manner. The poor in urban favelas or squatters are for example encouraging on agriculture land in many countries (i.e. the Nile Delta in Cairo) and helping them out as poor is actually in synergy with protecting the Nile Delta.

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7 thoughts on “Reflections: Justainability & Urban Environment Problems

  1. NOTE: for some reason I can’t blog because I am not authorized as a contributor / edit, something that is being sorted out!) but here is my blog anyway:

    The elusive green economy…

    When exploring the idea of a green economy, we confront issues of power, equity and scale. These issues center around the critical question of who leads the green economy and what this means for different contexts and communities. Actions by local communities to transform their contexts indicates that the application of the green economy is not limited to high-technology sectors, but a creative mix of locally-relevant services, skills and knowledge. This theme is increasingly recognized within the global green economy discourse, including the UN-Habitat report on Urban Patterns for a Green Economy: Clustering for Competitiveness (2013) and Acey & Culhane’s piece (2013) on community-driven green jobs and livelihoods in Africa.

    A number of themes emerged in the class green economy debate:

    A. Local contexts

    Perspectives on green economy leadership often depend on scale and definitions of ‘local context’. For instance, while there is often a distinction drawn between cities and ‘rural’ contexts, the reality for many developing contexts is less of a rural-urban dichotomy given the continuation of rural life in cities. The nature of urbanization in these contexts affects the kind of green economy implemented and it is often the case that local actions in developing countries are difficult to gauge and monitor. Without participative, case research, the local green economies embodied by waste pickers in Egypt or bio-digesters in Kenya may escape the green economy label so often applied to the more efficient, post-carbon high-tech industries. While much of this analysis is a function of scale, and indeed a frame of reference, what tangible ways can we use to better appreciate the local green economy and gauge the success thereof in transformative change? Points to ponder:
    • Is the fixed dichotomy between elected official and communities still relevant and useful?
    • What role exists for a supportive policy in stimulating green economy incentives, particularly given the state of governance (or lack thereof) that creates acute government failures?
    • In the absence of an enabling environment, how can local communities drive a structural change in the economy? Viable options for this overarching transformation may exist through identifying synergies across a range of issues, e.g. labor conditions, health, environment, and employment equity. Although the Freiberg case represents the power of citizen-based activism for a greener economy, a robust national renewable energy agenda assisted in Freiberg’s solar transformation. This is in contrast to other countries, such as the USA and South Africa, where for geo-political and economic reasons, renewable energy alternatives have not found the same level of national purchase.

    B. Regulatory and institutional context

    In the USA, regional scale planning can differ greatly from what happens at the city or local scale, and voluntary formations are often formed between different agencies to coordination in an otherwise multi-layered institutional context. LAANE is one such example where the voluntary partnership and mutual agreement of local governments, NGO’s, research institutions and individual workers have set in motion a campaign to address poverty, inadequate health care and polluted communication are simultaneously addressed through voluntary action and cooperation (LAANE, 2014). LANNE represents the power of voluntary formations to create enabling environments for change, and the importance of achieving consensus among different stakeholders. A great degree of consensus building, stakeholder management and consultation goes into voluntary partnerships, particularly because of the dependency traps, lock-ins and rigidities of many institutional contexts. Insofar as the green economy entails physical, economic and structural transformation, it is also very much about a shift from a rigid governance systems, to an environment of learning and mutual consultation.

    C. Innovation and creativity, whose role?

    Much of what is represented by the green economy is innovation and creativity in delivering services and consuming resources at national-, city-, industrial- or household- scales. In many respects, a green economy may only be realized through the cumulative effect of innovation and action at these multiple scales. However, to re-collectivize our efforts, requires a multi-level perspective that appreciates and values the individual contributions of different actors in implementing a greener economy, which may challenge and sacrifice our definition of a green economy. The challenge emerges if we consider the massive investments by large multi-national corporations, such as Coca-Cola or Shell, in more sustainable business practices that are inherently unsustainable in terms of resource exploitation, yet provide the employment base for many of the world’s marginalized communities. Should such ‘greener’ economic investments be part of the transition to a green economy in its full sense?

    A similar provocation is represented by Denzou, China, the world’s largest solar PV producer. Dezhou’s solar thermal industry employs around 800,00 people and approximately 90% of local households use solar water heaters. However, the bulk of Dezhou electricity still comes from coal-fired power stations and it remains to be seen whether solar technology will be able to shift the economy towards a more sustainable energy mix (UN-Habitat, 2013).

    If large-scale industrial solutions pose a threat to more a true green economy, that is a fundamental shift in the structure and nature of an economy, is there an inherent threat posed by scale? Household-level innovation may assist in shifting individual decision-making from previously unsustainable paths, and importantly, towards to an ‘off-grid’ mix of infrastructure, resources and services that is so critical given the growing food-, water-, waste- and energy- footprint of the world’s growing number of households. However, it is this very growth, including the nature of contemporary urbanization, which undermines the Earth’s capacity to provide services and regenerate. At a personal level, we may have to make difficult choices about what we eat, drink, waste and how we power our lives, and it may be that we can’t implement a green economy globally, but can engage in a more localized green economy, one that is tangible and makes sense for us in our own ways.

    References

    Acey, C. S. & Culhane, T. H. 2013. Green jobs, livelihoods and the post- carbon economy in African cities, Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability.
    LAANE. 2014. LAANE: A New Economy for All. [Online]. Available:
    http://www.laane.org/front-page-2/ [15 February 2014]
    United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat). 2013. Clustering for Competitiveness: Urban Patterns for a Green Economy. Nairobi: Kenya.

    Also read for interest:

    http://pmarcuse.wordpress.com

  2. teowickland

    Regarding Environmental Quality, I disagree that “the urban poor are less directly dependent on natural resources for their livelihood”. We all depend on what nature has provided (directly or indirectly), including food, water, oxygen, waste recycling systems, and the like. It may be less obvious for urban dwellers, but urbanites are still consuming food that is brought in from agricultural areas, for example; it’s hard to see how their food footprint is not larger than that of the rural dwellers. Unless the article is referring simply to there being other intermediaries (people, companies, institutions) between the raw resources and the urban poor, but that seems to have little relevance.

    Regarding Justainability, yes, greening is highly political and within the neoliberal context (which exhorts consumption, commodification, objectification, “self-reliance”, entrepreneurialism, etc.), can seem at times to be subversive or revolutionary. Yet it *is* our right to insist on greater social and environmental respect (i.e., justice now) and sustainability (justice now and later).

  3. I do not necessarily agree that the urban poor are less dependent on natural resources for their survival. Like everything, it depends. For the urban poor, everything needed for survival is one micro-step away from their direct control, and are mitigated by the quality of the social safety net and infrastructure provided formally by the government or informally. On the other hand, if one’s water or energy for example, are under either rural or urban poor’s individual or community control, they may have less dependence for their survival on the availability natural resources.

  4. Thanks for the summary. I think that the question about individual responsibility vs. institutional or structural change is really important (and pertinent not only to issues related to climate change, but to pretty much any sociopolitical issue in general). Campaigns often stress individual behavioral change when the larger forces driving climate disaster are of course institutional.

    Also, I don’t know what other folks think of the term “green”, but it seems to be a pretty vague term that can occasionally be overused/abused. It’s an easy concept for the general public to grasp, but I don’t know how useful it can be (when vague, I know that some programs or policies deemed “green” can actually lead to “greenwashing” – in other words, things that seem environmentally conscious can actually be somewhat harmful or not environmentally sustainable/just in impact. Just a thought!)

  5. skonala254

    I definitely agree with you that the statement that the urban poor are less directly dependent on natural resources for their livelihood seems to be too broad of a generalization. Depending on how you look at the issue, it can be argued that the opposite is true in a few cases (i.e. that the urban poor are more dependent on natural resources). For example, water is a natural resource that is available in urban areas to both the rich and poor. The urban poor may use water for their livelihood in the informal sector (maybe a household runs a clothes washing business). Additionally, there is much literature on the rural non-farm economy, some examples of which include remittances and tourism, which reduce rural dependence on natural resources.

    • I like that ☺
      What about unpacking the argument to two:

      1-Urban poor create less pressure on the environmental resources
      2-Urban poor are (directly) dependent on natural resources

      Residents of highly urbanized cities consume more resources that might exist locally or imported from other regions or even other countries. While the residents in rural areas or urban poor consume their basic needs.

  6. Thinking about the unequal distribution of consumption and of the burdens of climate change brought up an interesting and paradoxical thought for me. Though it is generally true (and will probably remain so for quite some time) that the rich consume much more than the poor while enduring far fewer of the burdens of climate change, in some places, it is becoming “cool” for wealthier members of society to intentionally reduce their resource use and to flaunt just how “sustainably” they live. For example, it is becoming increasingly popular to own a Prius, or to bring re-usable bags to the grocery store – something incentivized in California by the bag tax. This is accompanied by an increasing preference for installing water-saving appliances, solar panels, and sophisticated passive heating and cooling systems on one’s home. These actions reduce use of natural resources, but they are generally only accessible to the wealthy and to the middle class. Moreover, the attractiveness of these sorts of high-profile, individual-level sustainability efforts is in vogue right now among well-off young professionals, in particular, but not throughout American society as a whole. In this case, instead of the urban poor consuming less than the rich, the balance is beginning to shift. On the one hand, this is an encouraging and positive shift, as reductions in resource use by the rich have a greater impact potential than reductions by the poor. But on the other, this is troubling, because it paints those who cannot afford to reduce their resources as environmentally irresponsible. Making sustainability affordable seems to me to be a major challenge that needs to be addressed in sustainability efforts moving forward.

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