Coming back from Durban...

This is a post written by David Newman, my good friend and contributor to this blog. I consider that David's thoughts below reflect our world in a sentimental but more that true mirror and I am sure that most of us, the EU and USA residents, will have similar thoughts many times, especially coming back from transition countries. Thanks a lot David - please enjoy it...

"Post - Durban reflections

We are living in a western microcosm which is destined to be surpassed by the energy coming out of places like Durban. Here is youth, vitality, poverty, the need and the desire to create wealth. We in Europe are old and wealthy and the paradigm is ending. And we are not willing to get up and move to where the new paradigm is, instead we sit in our roccaforte and protect our position- a position being eroded by the growth of the new world, in the same way it was 150 years ago by the growth of the USA.  We haven't learnt those lessons, even though we saw the rise of Japan, then China, and now Brazil, India, and parts of Africa.
Some may say that Europe always retained its supremacy despite the rise of the new economies- but this is a partial reading of history. Europe has remained wealthy because the south has failed to open its own economies to its own people. This has now changed.

The new Arab Spring is nothing but a desire to liberate the economy from imposed elite monopolies.  These elites have given their peoples education and expect their peoples to not see the lesson- that the economy is in the hands of few, the opportunities are limited, major industries are monopolised. Just as Europe was. Even selling fruit on the street was an offence in Tunisia. So these educated people want their share too, want to belong, to participate in the growth of their societies, to travel, to own homes, businesses and to enjoy the liberty of an open society.

And when they can't get into the economy they move- immense numbers of asians, africans and south americans have been and are moving now. It is the largest emigration we have seen in human history. Millions. Millions. Poor people but also people given that education and unable to find fulfillment in their own societies. Doctors, engineers, economists, artists, musicians. Depriving their home countries of intellects they so sorely need but that are shut out through repression and monopolisation of economic sectors. So idiots are in control because they belong to the elite. And they are corrupt.

So the courageous and the intelligent risk their lives on boats heading north and west across the Med; or hidden under lorries riding north through El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico. Such waste.
Can the uprisings in the Arab countries be linked to the economic decline of Europe ? In other words, having nowhere to go to seek work, as Europe declined, the arabs realised that above all in their own societies they were denied those same opportunities they sought in Europe ?

The world improves slowly but the steps forward are over the corpses of the poor, women, the disenfranchised, the repressed, the uneducated. Such waste. Such a daily tragedy.

David Newman"


What's the outcome of Durban regarding waste?

This is a valuable contribution from my good friend David Newman, ISWA's Vice - President who participated at the Durban Climate Change event  as ISWA representative. I think that it is really thoughtful and worth to read it carefully. Thnaks a lot David, your posts are highly appreciated not onlly by me but by my readers as well.

"The negotiation process on Climate Change which terminates today in Durban is both extraordinarily complex and equally boring. Delegates from 194 countries spend days working their way through stacks of paper to find fault with the wording of each sentence, opening excruciating discussions which have to end in compromise because the process can only go forward with 100% consensus.

Venezuela, in a session on CDM, remained silent as the Chair called the session to an end, only to stand up immediately afterwards to make an objection, thus hijacking the process. It is democracy gone mad.
The negotiating teams meet for about 18 hours a day, especially when their Ministers arrive to close off some of the issues. Yet each of them know that the wider process, that of approving a renewed Kyoto Protocol, is in any case momentarily blocked by vetoes from the USA and others.

Absurd alliances take place : the USA, Bolivia and Venezuela all argue against market mechanism rules, the USA because the rules are too restrictive, the latin Americans because they oppose markets !
In any case let's look at the wider issues

1) Investments in renewable energy have reached $240bn a year now. These will grow whether a new treaty is signed or not because nations (like Italy) have incentivated renewables. And their unit cost has fallen 40% over the last five years making them seriously competitive.

2) Investments are being made in sustainability in all sectors, from energy to water source protection to waste to agriculture, all in the direction of improving their environmental footprint. To take one example: while forest cover has fallen worldwide there has been a huge increase in tree cover and reclaimed lands from the Sahel desert areas of north Africa. A new green swathe has grown right across a belt reaching from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east which was unimaginable ten years ago.

3) Our waste industry. The protocol for the first time includes waste as a mitigation instrument for developed countries and this is a result which opens the waste sector to financing from mitigation funding in the future. While this is a victory for lobbying from ISWA and friendly countries, it also recognises the enormous CO2 reduction potential of the industry which until now had gone unrecognised. We must wait to see if the protocol enters into international law.

We will see what the future of Kyoto holds, it is not clear. But a process has been put in motion which will be hard to stop. And as the climate warms the urgency to reduce emissions will rise. Above all from those who emit most and ironically are worried about the lawsuits which will come from those who bear the consequences - read coal, petrol and the USA on one side, read victims of hurricanes, floods, drought and landslides on the other."


Ecological behaviour and commitment to the environment

This is from Science for Environment Policy, an EC service, issue 265, December 2011.
"Researchers have used the psychological concept of ‘commitment’, normally used to understand relationships between people, to investigate our relationship with the environment. The results indicate that an individual’s commitment to the environment is important in their ecological behaviour, for example, their willingness to use public transport and make sacrifices for the environment.

Human behaviour is central to the exacerbation, mitigation and adaptation of various environmental issues, particularly climate change. As such, many policymakers are seeking insight into the psychological processes that influence pro-environmental behaviour, in order to inform policies that address detrimental behaviours and promote positive behaviours.
The concept of ‘commitment’ is rooted in the theory of relationships with people. It essentially describes feelings of attachment and a long term orientation in thinking about the relationship. The theory proposes that an individual’s commitment to their partner is predicted by their satisfaction with the relationship, their investment in the relationship and the other alternatives that exist to this relationship.

This study took this concept of commitment to try to understand human relationships with the environment. It developed environment-specific measures of commitment and its three predictors: satisfaction, investment and alternatives. The satisfaction measure focussed on an individual’s reward from spending time in the natural environment and investment looked at the involvement and effort people put into the environment. The measure of alternatives investigated the presence of other ways in which people could enjoy themselves and spend time, other than in the natural environment.

The study examined the relationships between these concepts by analysing the scores of 248 university students in the USA on these measures. It also included several other relevant measures, such as environmental identity, which assesses the degree to which individuals associate themselves with the environment, general environmentally friendly behaviour, such as public transport use and buying ecological products, and willingness to sacrifice for the environment, which assessed an individual’s willingness to sacrifice their own needs in order to improve the environment.

The analysis revealed that both the participants’ who had satisfaction with the environment and invested in the environment were more likely to be committed to the environment.
However, their perception of alternatives was not related to commitment. Commitment to the environment does not mean that an individual is not attached to other activities and places, in the same way that romantic attachment excludes relationships with other people. Therefore the predictor of ‘alternatives’ may not be so relevant in the environmental context.

Further analysis indicated that individuals with commitment to the environment said that their behaviour was pro-environmental and that they make sacrifices for the environment.
The research identified some interesting relationships between humans and the environment, although none of them were proven to be causal, i.e. it is not certain that commitment leads to pro-environmental behaviour or willingness to sacrifice. However, a greater understanding of these concepts could eventually provide insight into what influences an individual to develop long-term commitment to the environment, rather than making short-term decisions based on one’s own needs. This could potentially inform policy that seeks to encourage long-term and committed relationships to the environment."

For more: Davis, J.L., Le, B. & Coy, A.E. (2011) Building a model of commitment to the natural environmental to predict ecological behaviour and willingness to sacrifice. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 31(3): 257-265.


Albina Ruiz: a waste side story!

This is a contribution by Alberto Huiman Cruz, from Lima, Peru, a colleague I recently met in Mexico. It is the story of the recently awarded Albina Ruiz. I have made a little search about her and I have to say that the results achieved by her efforts are really important, especially in terms of improvement of health conditions. Congratulations from my side as well.
"Albina Ruiz is not afraid of cleaning up garbage. Many of us take efficient waste removal for granted. Yet, in some parts of the world, refuse is not effectively managed. This has long been the case in Lima, Peru.

The problem was particularly severe in Lima’s northern district. In 1995, for example, its 1.6 million residents produced 600 metric tons of solid waste daily. Municipal authorities were only able to manage about half of this. The rest ended up strewn all over; it was found in the street, in the river, or in vast open dumps, invariably leading to higher incidence of disease, as well as feelings among the residents of discontent and decreased self-image.

The high levels of unemployment in the area also fueled these feelings. In order to make money, people who called themselves “recicladores” searched the dumps for recyclables that they could then sell, through an intermediary, to a recycling facility. This generated less than $2 a day for the recicladores, who wore no protective clothing and became targets of gang violence.

Albina Ruiz started her organization, Ciudad Saludable (Healthy City Group), to combat these issues. Based on ideas she originally presented in her university thesis, the organization develops waste removal and management systems that are effective and inexpensive. Through a micro-entrepreneurship model, these systems allow the recicladores to take charge of dealing with the refuse, thereby addressing their unemployment. Ruiz’s solution also involves coordinating with the public sector and increasing public awareness about the importance of waste removal.

In the last decade, Ciudad Saludable has positively impacted over 6 million people in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, and India. Ruiz has also established two new organizations: Peru Waste Innovations, and Healthy Cities International, whose goal is to replicate Ciudad Saludable’s methods and successes globally. For her work, Ruiz was elected as an Ashoka Fellow in 1996.

David Nahmias, Ashoka’s Knowledge Team liaison to North and South America, helps coordinate Venture and Fellowship in these two regions; he describes Ruiz as one of Ashoka’s most impressive and inspirational Fellows.

“When I worked as Venture Coordinator in our Mexico office, Albina came to speak with our team there,” he said. “I was captivated by how she has managed to expand her micro-entrepreneurship model throughout the world, forge strategic partnerships with large corporations, and even influence national public policy in Peru and Brazil, all while speaking very humbly about her achievements. It was at that moment when I understood in real terms the amazing potential that Ashoka Fellows have to generate large-scale systems change around the world.”

Ruiz’s commitment to improving the lives of the working poor recently attracted the attention of The Global Fairness Initiative(GFI), which was founded with the goal of promoting fair and sustainable approaches to economic development. GFI presented Ruiz with the 2011 Fairness Award on November 8.

Two weeks later, Ruiz accepted the prestigious Albert Medal at the Royal Society of Arts in London, joining a long and distinguished list of innovative pioneers that includes Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.

Ashoka, GFI, and the Royal Academy are not the only organizations to recognize Ruiz’s innovation and passion. Her efforts have been commended by Avina, the Schwab Foundation, the Skoll Foundation, PBS, and the Clinton Global Initiative, among others. In addition, she is the author of several articles and books on the subjects of community planning and disease prevention.

Despite these successes and her international reach, Ruiz maintains her connections to her roots. She can still be found combing the beaches of Lima for trash to clean up, just as she did during her university days."


I am just 4,74 persons away!

After some weeks away, I am back to blog again. I just finished a long travelling schedule (actually I am on my way back home) and few minutes ago I was reading something really important, that I would like to share with my readers.

I am sure that most of you are familiar with the term "six degrees of separation". In case you are not, this is a study made in 1967 by the psychologist Stanley Milgram. He asked 296 volunteers to send a message by postcard, through friends and then friends of friends, to a specific person in a Boston suburb. He discoovered that on average, using 6 persons as intermediate points, they finally made it, although they had no idea of the address of the person. The result of the study was that our world, even in 1967, was interconnected. Using friends of your friends, with six steps on average, you can contact almost anyone worlwide!

A new study, recently completed and based on Facebook data analysis, says that in our era the average steps required are reduced from 6 to 4,74!

The sample was 721 million Facebook users, more than one-tenth of the world’s population. The findings were posted on Facebook’s site Monday night (see http://www.facebook.com/data) .

The experiment took one month. The researchers used a set of algorithms developed at the University of Milan to calculate the average distance between any two people by computing a vast number of sample paths among Facebook users. They found that the average number of links from one arbitrarily selected person to another was 4.74. In the United States, where more than half of people over 13 are on Facebook, it was just 4.37.

As the researchers conclude “When considering even the most distant Facebook user in the Siberian tundra or the Peruvian rain forest a friend of your friend probably knows a friend of their friend.”

Just two comments from my side.

First the world is much more interconnected that we actually understand. And this is something that has not yet been utilized for the improvement of waste management, through massive social collaboration! As we have discovered working on the project "Globalization and waste management" with ISWA colleagues, it seems that interconnectivity and flow of ideas, trends and culture is a key-issue for the waste management practices in the most interconnected parts of our world, the megacities!

Second and last, this interconnectivity does not mean that the whole world is one. Changing the view, you can easily conclude that you will never reach the world without 5 more persons to act as intermediate media! Or, as Milgram said "the result could also be evidence of psychological distance: that we were actually, on average, five “worlds apart.”