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A new transmission project—the Atlantic Wind Connection— 

has the potential to transform offshore wind power along the Mid-Atlantic States in the United States. Google and Good Energies, a New York financial and investment firm, have agreed to heavily invest in a $5 billion transmission backbone along the Atlantic seaboard.

Basically, the project involves building a 350-mile undersea water cable system that will carry electricity generated from offshore wind farms to shore. A slightly more technical examination reveals that underwater electricity transmission is different than onshore transmission, notably because it uses direct-current in place of alternating current (what we use when we plug our phone chargers into the wall). Alternating current doesn’t do well in long enclosed cables so the project necessarily has to use direct-current, which makes things slightly more difficult. Direct-current runs point-to-point—or one way only—meaning that the 350-mile cable system is really a series of links between substations build on platforms that sit in the ocean. These substations will need to be hurricane proof and will need to be large enough to moor a boat for technicians arriving to make repairs.

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Over the past two weeks I’ve written blog posts on a new proposed fuel economy standard and on the importance of dynamic national transportation policy. Both blogs briefly touched on the need for alternative forms of transportation—from increasingly relying on electric and hybrid cars to reduce emissions (and increase fuel economy) to strengthening non-highway forms of moving people and capital. But how can it be accomplished?

This video describes the efforts of the municipal government of Malmo, Sweden to increase bike ridership in their city. Malmo is the third largest city in Sweden (population 290,000) and for the past four years has been working to get its population away from their cars and on to their bikes. Their campaign “No Ridiculous Car Trips” aims to point out the ridiculousness of using a car for trips under 5 kilometers.

I’m curious if such a campaign would work in my own city of Washington DC, which has been putting in more bike lanes on busy roads. Of course, Malmo has over 250 miles of dedicated bike paths which makes it easier for the campaign to point out the convenience of biking. Is this a chicken or the egg question? To encourage more biking, do cities have to add bike lanes? Or do more people have to bike to push cities into creating bike lanes?

If bicycling doesn’t seem quiet an alternative enough a mode of transportation to driving, then check out the Human Monorail. It’s a recumbent bicycle encased in plastic tube that would allow people to bicycle along a track high above the traffic. The idea comes from an adventure ride in New Zealand, where two people inside the tubes race against each other along parallel tracks. However, Google has recently invested one million dollars with Schweeb, the company that owns the ride, as a part of its Project 10^100. The project began two years ago when Google asked for submissions for ideas and projects that would change the world by helping as many people as possible. One of the final ideas selected was to “drive innovation in public transportation.” Other winning ideas include “make educational content available online for free”, “enhance science and engineering education”, “make government more transparent”, and “provide quality education to African students”.  The following is a short video announcing the winning ideas and institutions, which includes some great video of the human monorail so make sure to check it out.

There are, of course, questions about how the human monorail would work in the urban environment it’s designed to serve. How would people get up hills without causing a traffic jam? What happens if there’s a slow person in front of you? What kind of capacity could the system really handle? Is it safe? Can the pod derail and fall down onto the street (and into traffic)? Schweeb answers all these questions and more on their FAQ page and seems to have really through their system through.

The only question that remains for me is when can I ride one?

By Catherine Bugayong
Catherine is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Catherine below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

The ongoing economic recession marks a critical time for international financial architecture. The effects of our international financial architecture’s weaknesses have been all too palpable, and promise to fundamentally alter the lives of young people. Jobs after graduation have been scarce, leaving many of us unemployed and underutilized, frustrated and disillusioned. According to the New York Times, the global youth unemployment rate rose an unprecedented 1.1 percent to 13 percent from 2007 to 2009. It is expected to increase in the current year, and for our job recovery to trail that of our parents’.
 
We also stand to inherit more than $13 trillion in debt, as well as the tricky job of determining how to pay it. The future looks grim and full of “belt-tightening.”
 
This serves to make the present markedly vital. Policymakers today are assessing and remaking how money moves within and across borders in ways that we might not see again for a long time. If there ever was a time to rewrite how financial institutions conduct their business or how governments spend money, that time is now. Once the economy recovers, the underpinnings of the international financial architecture will not meet with this level of scrutiny again, at least until the next crisis hits.
 
At work here is a complex group of public institutions, including but not limited to G8 national governments, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. They are all meant to be accountable to you, the citizen. We will be living with the consequences of their decisions for years to come. It is therefore vital to read the news, to vote, and to speak with our representatives. We must remain engaged with our policymakers so that the changes they implement really can create a brighter, more sustainable future.

Catherine Bugayong studied International Studies and Economics at the University of Washington. Her academic interests include (but are not limited to) economic development in Southeast Asia and the Greek debt crisis. As an Issue Analyst on the topic of “international financial architecture,” Catherine looks forward to sharing her enthusiasm for current international events and economics.

By Ashley Binetti
Ashley is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Ashley below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

I became wrapped up in human rights (HR) issues in college; I filled my schedule with classes on global poverty, cultural rights, international law, etc.  It is incredibly daunting to learn about the world’s human rights abuses—each problem is linked to the next, and a viable solution appears to be light-years away.  However, we don’t have to solve every problem to have an impact.  As students, we have the ability to garner support for these issues.  Advocacy is our most powerful tool—by writing op-eds, blogs and letters to congress, or by inspiring a new group of passionate citizens.

A few years ago, I interned for Amnesty International, USA (AIUSA) and had the pleasure of meeting 25 college students who volunteered for the Human Rights Education Service Corps Program.  These students taught an introductory HR course in low-performing D.C. public high schools.  I taught my own course as well, and was consistently amazed by my students.  After discussing questions such as, “What do you need to survive, day to day?” and “What do you need to live a happy life?,” we penned a list that paralleled the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 1948).  Learning occurred through this type of exchange, where the concept of rights was instinctive, and students could understand the universal and interdependent nature of rights.   

As Columbia University Professor Betty Reardon notes, “Intentional cultural change can result only from education.”  It doesn’t have to be in a classroom using the AIUSA curriculum; it could be creating a teach-in of your own, holding a town-meeting on campus, or participating in a national HR conference.  If we seek to live in a world where human rights are respected, the best place to start is by educating ourselves and our peers—encouraging action and compassion.

Ashley Binetti recently graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Cornell University with a BA in Government and International Relations.  She has advocated for human rights through internships with The United Nations Foundation and Amnesty International USA, and by participating in Care USA’s National Conferences.  Ashley is particularly interested in social, economic, and cultural rights, as well as the expansion of human rights education in the United States and abroad.  In her free time, Ashley enjoys yoga and salsa dancing.

By Tina Korte
Tina is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Tina below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

Scores of individuals assume that young people lack concern for events transpiring outside their frame of reference. Could this be due, in part, to the sparse media attention globally-minded young people receive for their efforts to promote a world where sustainable human development is possible for all?

Ironically, young people are more informed than ever. We are global citizens and dream about a day when human rights are granted to and preserved for everyone. We sit at coffee shops, receive breaking news updates, and discuss world issues with our peers using social media. We want to learn, explore, and immerse ourselves in regions where conflict is present and protection of human rights is absent. We imagine how we can support people whose governments fail to their protect human rights, and we question why these atrocities continue to occur without intervention from the international community.

We are mindful that we may not become CEO’s or millionaires, nor will we grace the cover of Time magazine under the heading “most influential people,” but we will positively affect the lives of people whose voices and words have been lost, unwritten, or silenced. We will share their stories with the community, and those who read our publications will inevitably become better-informed citizens. We will uphold the “Never Again” pledge but will refuse to allow “Yet Again” to appear in anything but history books. When we succeed, genocide and ethnic cleansing will be taught as past events that demonstrate the rare but sometimes present malevolent human spirit.

We have read the books and listened to numerous history lessons that speak of failure. Nothing will inspire us to be globally-minded young people who act, think, and advocate more than the failures of past leaders and the international community to ensure that human rights were always defended.

Tina Korte is pursuing a Master of Arts in International Relations with an emphasis in Conflict Resolution from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. Her interest in human rights stems from her admiration for the perseverance of the human spirit and her desire to ensure that those whose rights are violated are given a voice.  She believes that young people are more aware than ever about the violations of human rights and through our conversations we spread awareness to the international community which hopefully will prevent future atrocities.

By Eamon Penland

As a follow-up to my first post, and in a response to a recent AIDemocracy tweet, I decided to address the issue of development with regards to our security.

Just the other night I had a conversation with a friend who tried to argue against our foreign aid budget. He argued that development should neither be an objective of U.S. foreign policy, nor an issue we should be concerned with.

I think the role that the United States plays in the development of other countries is still seen by many in the light of “liberal tree huggers that just want to save the world”. It should be seen in a light of the ultimate form of American protectionism.

We need to realize that terrorism is more than just an ideology. It is an economic system as well. In David Kilcullen’s book, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One, Kilcullen argues that a majority of terrorists have no interest in what he calls “Takfiri Islam”. This is the radical form of Islam that we associate with terrorism. Takfiri believers infiltrate tribes by marrying into families, thus they are able to conceal themselves amongst the local more moderate believers. These radicals are small in numbers, and they become extremely difficult to pick out of local populations.

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When I read this New York Times article concerning the finding of mineral deposits in Afghanistan, my response was really?? To me, there is little good that can come of this discovery.

Firstly, while the discovery of mineral deposits in Afghanistan is wonderful for the Afghan economy, what percentage of the profits from mining will actually go toward the local economy? The Pentagon has already created a task force charged with creating a development plan for mining the minerals, and international firms are already lining up to take advantage of this new resource.  How much of the profits will actually stay in Afghanistan and go toward fostering local, sustainable community growth? In my opinion, judging from the history of international interests in national resources, the answer is not much.  The article discussed the fears of the Pentagon that nations such as China will step in to dominate the control and sale of these minerals.  But concerns over the impact on the actual people of Afghanistan was not mentioned, nor was the affect on the environment.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly from an environmental perspective, is the potential for destruction of Afghan land.  There is no way to mine anything without causing harm to the surrounding environment.  Stripping the land of any kind of resource removes the balance that is needed to keep an ecosystem functioning.  The mining of minerals for use in the international gadget market (where minerals like lithium, which powers our electronics like laptops and smart phones so often end up.  According to the Pentagon, this new find could make Afghanistan the “Saudi Arabia of lithium.”) strips the land of its nutrients, flora, and fauna in order to feed the international need for technology.  Also, the fact that the government will be acquiring the rights to the land mean that the people currently on the land will be forced to give it up — including any kind of farm or livelihood they were cultivating on that land.

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Last week I had the opportunity to attend two events on adapting to climate change.  I was initially excited to attend, as the speakers were excellent and I had  done research on adaption to climate change in the past.  My research had been on the necessity of adapting to the effects of climate change like building sturdier houses to withstand flooding, or making changes to water storage methods to prepare better for droughts.

These events brought up a completely different aspect of adaption to climate change.  Rather than discussing how people will have to adapt to climate change, the information presented focused on the ‘benefits’ of climate change — namely, that certain latitudes (the ones the United States, Europe and most developed countries happen to be in) will actually benefit from the warming of the globe.  With an increase in warmth, agriculture can flourish more in the lower latitudes, while areas in the higher latitudes around the equator will not benefit from the warmer weather.

Another point made by these climate experts was that there is no concern for water scarcity, because climate change will actually bring more precipitation.  Just how that precipitation would occur was not mentioned, nor was how people would be able to collect precipitation that came down in the form of blizzards, hurricanes, and tsunamis.

My final point of contention with these events is that both were supposed to be about adapting to climate change in developing countries. Yet developing countries were brought up only a handful of times during both events.  At the first event, a seminar at the Elliot School on George Washington University’s campus, developing countries were only referred to as ‘poor people’ and only mentioned to point out that poor people wouldn’t be able to adapt well, and that there wasn’t much hope for them.

At the second event, a mini-conference put together by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, developing countries were brought up as examples of potential markets for genetically engineered seeds and new agricultural technologies.  Forget my feelings toward genetically modified food/seeds/ and the switch to ‘modern agriculture,’ the plan for developing countries to adapt to climate change involves opening them up as new markets for technology? Sounds too familiar.

I give the speaker and presenters at these two events credit for their science — the data for what they were looking at is legitimate.  The problem was in what they left out of their models and business plans: the people who will be affected.  We can’t forget that there is a human face to climate change — and that it is fellow human beings that will be affected.  Hearing leading policy makers in the efforts for climate change talk about people in developing countries as if they were disposable was really discouraging, and quite frankly, I was outraged.  The key to adapting to climate change isn’t to ignore problems or try to ‘invent our way out’ of them,  but to change our lifestyles to counteract what climate change we can no longer change, and prevent any future climate change.

For more information on adapting to climate change, check out the CSIS website on climate change.

From hydroelectric projects in Mexico and a dam in Brazil, to Afro-Colombian displacement, to developing tourism instead of community in Honduras, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has not been following through on its promises.

AID blogger Michael Collins recently co-authored this informative and infuriating article on just how much damage the IDB has been doing in these areas as a result of its “development projects.” Collins and his co-author, through the Center for International Policy in Mexico, uncovered that the IDB’s projects have been directly responsible for everything from uprooting entire communities to polluting drinking water and ignoring calls for decontamination. Not to mention, when the authors were doing their research, not only were documents difficult to find or information buried in vague language, often times their inquiries simply went unanswered.

Not exactly what IDB’s commitments to transparency and international development should look like.

Read the full text of the article here.

In a bold, pre-sustainable development era move, the World Bank is pushing to finance a US$3.75 billion (rand 29 billion) project to establish a new coal plant in South Africa twice the size of the largest plant currently in Great Britain.

This project would be directed through Eskom, one of the largest suppliers of electricity to Africa (approximately 95% of South African electricity and 45% across the country), and incidentally one of the dirtiest and most resistant to clean, sustainable energies. And wait, it gets worse: Eskom had also, originally, planned a rate increases of 45% (!), but only a 25% increase was permitted by the South African government – which is still terrible.

Quick recap: the self-proclaimed sustainable development development agency, the World Bank, wants to loan the South African energy giant Eskom US$3.75 million to fund another dirty, out-of-fashion coal plant. W-O-W!

South Africa already emits more CO2 per capita than the UK and yet some 15% of its population remains unconnected to its energy grid. The SA government aims to reign in this portion of the populous with this new plant, but as a country rich in solar and wind potential, the largest funder of development assistance worldwide ought to be initiating development projects that will be sustainable, long-lasting endeavors, and not endanger South Africans present and future.

An African environmental group, Groundwork, has criticized the loan as “a bad project, contributing to energy poverty and environmental destruction.” This plant will only further pollute streams, destroy and pollute communities, and create an expensive mess the government will only be forced to cleanup years on down the line.

So, 350.org, one of the best, most cutting-edge progressive groups out there has launched a campaign, alongside 65 other indigenous groups in South Africa, to stop this ill-conceived development project.

Take action. Tell the World Bank “Clean Energy for South Africa, NOT Coal!”

Read more at www.AfricaAction.org

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