Mitigation is the early strategy, while adaptation is the later strategy. Prevention verse cure.
Our species has a terrible track record for identifying long term risk and affording it the necessary preventative measures.
We’re always looking for the cure, or more accurately, the quick fix.
We may lament the lack of political will or the token gestures of industry, but ultimately, we have our own footprint, vote and wallet. No-one is beyond blame for inaction.
Avenues of adaptation
So, to speak of meaningful adaptation, there is only efficiency, which in turn starts to address mitigation also.
We will need to either practice high autonomy (ie. self-sufficiency) or high communal living in retrofitted cities to promote greater interaction to compensate less personal space. These, or a combination of the two – something like a self-sufficient town.
The alternative; low autonomy and low communal living – suburbia – will buckle under economic pressures in coming decades. It isn’t made with any flexibility, easy access to jobs, goods or services and is largely a heat trap. Most houses there are made to large a single generation.
Given the price trends and general design focus of inner-city areas in Australia, it’s unlikely that a lot of us will be able to take the highly communal living approach in the near future.
Likewise, as much as I would jump at the opportunity to work with a group of people to invest and develop a sustainable village, finding enough people in the same part of the world to make it possible is very difficult.
For much of us, the only avenue that is any way achievable is autonomy.
Autonomous footprint, vote and wallet
This is the primary focus that I wish to take NewAnthro on. It is the story of my life for the last few years so far.
I have been exploring food production within my cool Victorian climate, with some success. While my garden only compliments our grocery needs, each week is a little better than the last.
I’ve also been building solar panels and found them to be fairly straightforward. In both the cases of my panels and my garden, being currently stuck in a rental property, I have some significant limitations in what I can achieve.
Then there is “up-cycling”. I hate buzz words generally, but the principle is great and one that I think appeals to anyone who (like myself) is forever spotting things that could be useful in later projects.
The difference between hoarding and up-cycling is actually doing something with this material more than storage. I plan to give some project examples along the way.
My ultimate goal is to be in a position to hit the ground running as soon as I can buy some space.
Two birds, one stone
All that I am working towards is aimed towards buttressing my life, so that it will be more resilient, prosperous and better suited to my personal views and ethics. It will be adaptation.
Yet, as efficiency is at the heart of what I will do, it will be, on a very small scale, mitigation as well.
I might try to find case studies of people who downsized to make the best of life in a highly liveable city as well. I’m confident that this is just as viable, but sadly in short supply.
If any topic, or idea has sat with you and left you thinking, “I wonder if…” please feel free to let me know. I’m always happy to research, test and write on whatever interests my readers and can assist us to reduce our footprint and live more align to our ethics.
I’ve moved a lot, by anyone’s standards, over my life. The reoccurring theme I’ve found in suburban landscapes is that it’s built for the driver. One’s home is an island within vast tracks of MAMBA. We can do it better. We have done it better. We’ll need to make human landscapes better if we’re ever going to make genuine headway on climate adaption and mitigation as well as increase resource security and waste reduction.
I found this video an interesting piece in the puzzle before us.
Globally, there is intense discussion about the future of urban life through the World Urban Campaign. The central proposition is that:
… the battle for a more sustainable future will be won or lost in cities.
Presumably, this is predicated on the fact that 54% of the world’s people live in cities, where 70% of global GDP is generated. By 2050 the urban population will have risen to 66%.
In parallel, following the Paris climate agreement, major cities are committing to measures designed to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The poster for this campaign should read “Coming to your city soon”.
It is clear 2016 will be the “urban year” as the global community prepares for the Habitat III summit in Quito, Ecuador, this October.
At Habitat III, governments will agree an urban agenda to guide global urban development over the next 20 years. The agenda is taking shape through preparatory meetings (the next one is in Indonesia in July), as well as regional and thematic meetings.
A series of 28 urban thinkers campuses has been organised across the globe, running until February 2016. One of the last of these is in Melbourne, Australia.
A world of challenges
We are all too familiar with the problems cities commonly face. These include rising house prices putting ownership beyond the reach of many, suburban sprawl, long commutes, traffic congestion, social problems, isolation and polarisation.
Melbourne leads the pack of Australian cities that rank highly for liveability, but they rate much more poorly for sustainability. AAP/David Crosling
At the same time, Australian cities have real strengths. This is reflected in their performance in various rankings on liveability and quality of urban life. But we ought not assume that this situation is sustainable, or that we can lock in liveability.
Globally, cities face even greater challenges. In the global south, if you live in a city there is a one-in-three chance that you live in a slum.
Also, despite progress on the Millennium Development Goals, poverty is still our greatest urban concern. It is not limited to the south and has been growing across cities globally since the global financial crisis. Limited financial resources constrain the capacity of city administrations to respond to these challenges, especially in the face of austerity measures.
While that may seem like a pretty glum picture, there are reasons to be hopeful.
In a survey of 20 cities last year for the UN Global Compact Cities Program we identified many examples of civic leadership and urban innovations.
Related to this, in the US, Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley at Brookings have described these innovations as a “metropolitan revolution”. They argue that local leaders are doing the hard work of growing the job market and making their communities more prosperous. They cite examples in New York, Portland, Houston and Miami.
Across the English Channel, Bristol is seeking to transform the economy by introducing a local currency. The Bristol pound is designed to strengthen business relationships within the city and to build trust.
What these cities and their leaders have recognised is that “business as usual” will not get us to where we need to be.
Technological innovation, institutional reform, financial investment and regulatory change are all part of the answer, especially as we seek to achieve development goals while ensuring we do not undermine our environmental sustainability. However, we may need to dig deeper. Something that we neglect is the need for changes in values at both the societal and individual levels.
Twisting Einstein’s famous quote somewhat, it is possible to assert that “we can’t solve problems by using the same value system that created them”.
Here is where the notion of the ethical city comes in.
What is the ethical city?
Ethics is concerned with what is “right, fair, just or good”, not necessarily what is most accepted as normal or expedient.
Most people will have heard of the term ethical corporation. It suggests that such businesses place certain key values and practices at the centre of their operations. This could include fairness, integrity, respect for the environment, elimination of discrimination, and so on.
Internationally, some of these key values are elaborated in the ten principles of the UN Global Compact. Thousands of companies have signed up. Mayors of cities and governors of regions can also sign up to these principles by sending a letter to the UN secretary-general.
Yet the term ethical city is rarely used, even though ethical considerations underpin how we plan and manage our cities. And the ethical values underpinning the vast majority of our decisions about city life are rarely made explicit.
Even so, in most cities we already see various measures designed to support ethical governance. These range from internal commissions to audit and check on performance through to measures to promote transparency and community participation in decision-making.
Urban leaders, administrators, planners, engineers and others are aware of the ethical ramifications of their work, have guidance to refer to and training when needed. Although sometimes people fall foul, the vast majority do not because they are seen to be doing the right thing.
But we must recognise that there is a dominant view of “business as usual” based on an embedded set of values. Good examples include how most cities are designed primarily to accommodate the car, how we work in the CBD and live in the suburbs, or how homelessness is seen as a fact of life in many cities.
How do we create a more ethical city?
Thought leaders like Peter Singer have done a lot to elaborate the importance of ethics in everyday life, especially with his book Practical Ethics. However, we live in utilitarian times.
More than ever, our cities need ethical leadership – good governance, transparency, public trust building and fairness. They need ethically based planning to deal with the complex challenges facing our communities. This depends on our willingness to tackle the tough questions around sustainability, resilience, economic vibrancy and inclusiveness.
There is also our role as citizens. What are our expectations of ourselves as ethical, engaged citizens? What do we expect and deserve, and what are we prepared to commit to each other in the ethical city? What kind of citizens do we need to be?
Most of all, if we end up agreeing that we need a city that cares, how do we navigate to this end in a world where private profit and consumption are kings and where the tenets of the ethical city – social inclusion, climate action, gender equity, rights of children and youth, and myriad other rights and needs – are lacking?
If this sounds like a new year dose of utopianism, think of cases that you could envisage in your city – from participatory budgeting, to crowd-funded social enterprises, to any number of people who decided “what should we do?”, then acted on it.
The Ethical Cities Urban Thinkers Campus, to be hosted at RMIT University in Melbourne on February 16, will explore the ethical city in relation to urban development, inclusion and rights, and resilience.
While some in the government are calling the actions of many disappointed Australians “socialism” in truth, civil disobedience and peaceful protesting is an essential element to a fully functional democracy. Of course, the opposition, when they have no genuine rebuke, will resort to name calling, so let them have that, at least.
For those who care about the quality of the minds of future Australian who will be in charge when we are old and needing assistance (hoping that we haven’t made them selfish and apathetic). The best point of this article, for me is the simple point; if university graduates are likely to earn 75% more, why not add a tax to those currently earning 75% more to support those who follow them?
It avoids the debilitating debt the current proposal will create and it will avoid further insult to the disadvantaged – those who may not make the supposed 75% more, women who take time off to have children, people who suffer an unforeseeable health problem down the track when they have already completed university and are unable to work in the same fashion, etc.
My initial thought in reading this was, “Well, I’ll happily apply for a role!” (noting, obviously, my skills sets are probably not a great match)
I’ve written numerous articles over the years about the how poorly the Australian Green Sector has established itself. Since 2009 it went downhill for some time and I had a sense last year that again momentum was indeed rebuilding.
Nowadays, I’m careful of whether or not I include the words “climate change” or certain publications in an application. We all have mouths to feed and lives to live. The cuts to research and anything relating to climate by our current government is an effective tool to undermine the confidence of the sector.
As I wrote recent, I have been left with the conclusion that our public representatives have forgotten their role to the public, as public servants, with continual measures that favour the wealthy minority and short term self-gratification.
We need solutions that support climate science, biological science, agricultural science, social science, as we best understand it, and potential threats, today.
There is a lot of talk, but little action from a wide range of agents.
About the only place I have any faith restored is in the public itself. Occupy and the March in March show that many thousands of people are motivated towards change. They see the shortcomings of Business and Usual as well as the potential to a wide range of solutions.
In the days prior to the Information Age the democratic process gave the best weight to the people. It was the original crowdsourcing through the election of individuals that would speak on their behalf. It has never been perfect. It has always spoken for those groups with the most influence, not necessarily the majority.
Modern technology provides the solution. People can be organised to take a stand, to change behaviours and to influence their local culture via social media.
Progressives, with their diversity views, can step in time on shared values and/or mutual disgust of the current power brokers.
With this in mind, I’ve started a forum.
There is no content yet, but for a topic on the forum structure, but it is the platform I wish to develop and take NewAnthro forward.
It’s a simple, free, forum as the initial test bed.
As the name suggests, it is a place for those who recognise that our influence is lasting. We shape the world. We shape the atmosphere, the lithosphere and the hydrosphere.
Climate will continue to change. Population will continue to grow. Our economy, our technology, indeed our modern world necessarily plays a continuing fundamental role in our modern world. The only point in question is whether all of this will come at a massive cost to those yet unborn or if we can enrich the world through all our modern processes.
Let’s draw up the Blueprint.
The Anthropocene Blueprint thus is all inclusive. Any problem noticed by a member of the community or solution already applied in a personal situation is part of the process. It is the shape of the future we wish to design.
Through a forum, it avoids hierarchical influences and solutions are applied by the individual through their own means and desire (if it so exists). In this space, we can share and influence change than benefits us all and future generations through an entirely grassroots motivated approach.
More importantly, the forum must be the result of an engaged community of users. We need to be involved and we must also encourage others to as well. It is our blueprint and our statement to future generations that we recognised the need for change and worked towards it on their behalf.
I’ve created a new page above that you can use to directly find the forum should you need a quick and easy link to it for others.
The most important part of this project is that it cannot be left to a few of us. We must build a large and motivated community of users. We could, collectively, reduce the burden of living costs as well as our impact on our resources in a scale that would surprise observers.