Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Some on the Ground Solutions

The collection of young people at the conference on Sustainability want real change, and they want it now - which for many, has led to engagement or creation of on-the-ground, community-based solutions. I highlight a few of them below.

In Baja California, Mexico, Costasalva, WildCoast has been doing community-based work to protect the coasts. This includes engaging with waste, environmental education, and conserving sea turtles. The beautiful area has been able to make a significant difference.

We heard a presentation about eco-villages, long an alternative form of living in the USA.

Ecovillages such as Village Homes in Davis, California, to minimise environmental impacts and energy consumption and to encourage social interaction and participation. Sustainable urban forms are enabled through narrow streets, small lots and village homes which create a sense of community with a strong sense of ownership. Most people know about 40 neighbours and the residents are involved in the design process.  The ecovillage in Ithaca uses a co-housing model and integrate energy efficiency. In Cincinnatti, attempt at creating the ecovillage did not succeed because the people living there were not fully engaged and did not share the principles.  More recently, in 2004, a collection of residents declared their street an ecovillage and fostered a sustainable urban neighborhood. Urban ecovillages face the challenges of working within existing urban constraints - but as this is where most people live and thus where it becomes essential to do more of them. All of them try to engage in some kind of outreach.

It didn't sound like eco-villages are really taking off. Parks, however, have to be changed - there are legislative incentives and historical pathways that continue to make parks an integral part of California design. We heard a presentation about parks in Orange County, CA, which are facing economic constrictions and finding that creating sustainable parks that use a lot less water and even help treat water are good solutions. They are not yet incorporating food systems into these parks - but the designers I talked to thought it was only a matter of time before public park spaces might become spaces for growing food.

Because food really matters. Debjeet from Living Farms  shared about what is happening with food sovereignty issues with indigenous populations in India.  Observing that food is a critical part of life and should not exist as a mere commodity, Debjeet  Currently, FAO says that population is not actually outstripping food supply, which is the common assumption.   Industrial agriculture, which feeds less than 40% of the population, is damaging environment.  Despite a climate action plan, the Indian government continues to promote unsustainable agricultural initiatives.  Agriculture has been replaced with agribusiness. Some parts of the Indian government say that small farmers should not exist and that small-farmers are no longer of use to the economy. He said, if you want development, first give us back our seeds and our land.  He shares the story of a wise fool:
A man was walking home when he saw the mullah searching on hands and knees for something on the ground. He says, what have you lost. The key to my house. Where did you drop it? Over there near my house. So why are you looking for it here? Because there is more light here.

And so it goes.

We look in the familiar framework for what we know here and what we know there. We know how to change the world outside but do we really know how to work on the inside? There seems to be much less light in there. A major impediment to sustainability isn't just the external world, but the internal constraints. We need to take the inner psychological landscape into account.  We can be so eager to find a solution that we rush into the first solution that comes to mind.  So what is needed?

Securing local food systems become essential. Decentralised food systems that bring together producers and consumers can contribute towards a sustainable planet.  He discussed having a very high level of crop diversity to make this happen. He argued for an enabling policy environment to support diverse crops. Food production needs to be re-orientated to local markets as a way of dealing with the climate crisis.

Food is essential - but so too is energy. In the small, densely populated country of Barbados, sustainable energy is critical.  Felicia Cox, who describes herself as an engineer who 'likes to make things happen', wondered why the UNCHE in Stockholm in 1972 was never taken seriously. In Barbados, solar water heating companies have been growing since the 1970s. The sugar cane industry has been using windmills to generate energy for them for quite some time. Barbados has very few buffers and is dramatically impacted by other parts of the world. After reviewing some of the challenges of sewage (need for more plants) and energy and the need to connect the two, she said that the single biggest thing she wanted was for donor countries to ask what the people wanted, to listen to what they said, and to keep their promises.  They have an abundance of energy, but the grid is not designed in such a way that  it is solved. She sees solutions in community outreach to shift the energy costs.  She sees a host of small solutions, from time of use tariffs to renewable energy riders. strong electric utility and ways to bring together waste and energy. (

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