Thursday, October 26, 2006

What is Sustainable Development?

I was asked the other day just what is sustainable development, how does it affect me?
What follows is a basic look at what sustainable development is where it came from and why it is important.
The 1987 United Nations Commission on Environment and Development, sometimes referred to as the Bruntland Commission, highlighted the fact that economic development often meant deterioration in the quality of many people's lives, not improvement. The Commission's Report, Our Common Future, states that Sustainable Development is:

development that meets the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future generations
to meet their own needs.

It is intended to highlight that sustainable development is not about aiming for huge profits, that what we should aim for are higher standards of living for all, not the few. In essence, take what we need without exceeding the natural capacity for renewing the resources we use, and not polluting the planet beyond what nature can absorb.

The Commission's Report prompted the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro where the nations of the World agreed the Global Action Plan for the 21st-century: AGENDA 21.

Agenda 21 recognises that humans depend on the Earth to sustain our lives. This might appear obvious, but human behaviour over the last few centuries seems to indicate that we have forgotten this important fact.
Think Global :: Act Local
Agenda 21 also recognises that environmental stress is linked to human activity and that if we act at a local level to rectify matters collectively local actions will have global impacts.
Another important feature of sustainable development is social inclusion; local people must be involved in local decision making pertaining to the development of their own communities otherwise these developments will not be sustainable. In Scotland, every local authority has, or should have, a Local Agenda 21 officer.

Key Issues
Depleting and degrading natural resources. In time, nature will renew important resources. Using resources more quickly than they can be renewed is unsustainable. Many of the natural resources important to us rely on the planet's biological diversity to aid the natural cycles, therefore a diminishing biodiversity is not conducive to sustainability. Protecting biodiversity is crucial to sustainable development.
There are many key issues pertaining to development that need to be resolved:
  • Use of Energy Resources
  • Water Resources and stress through pollution and mismanagement
  • Land Use and Soil degradation
  • Fisheries, aquatic and marine
  • Minerals and Extraction
  • Forest and Timber issues

Pollution is another key issue; this affects:

  • The Atmosphere
  • Land and Soil
  • Rivers, Lakes and Groundwater Aquifers
  • Oceans.
Pollution has many sources most of which are anthropogenic (man made), and it can have direct health effects on humans too.

There are Social Issues that also need to be addressed such as:
  • Population Growth
  • War and Social Unrest
  • Poverty and Hunger
  • Water Stress
  • Impacts of Globalisation (Free Market Economy)
  • Social Justice
  • Education
  • Urbanisation
  • Disease
These are all huge problems some must be resolved at a global level; many others locally.

There are three main pillars to sustainable development: Environment, Society and Economy. Each of the three is required to serve the other two equally if sustainability is to be achieved and all of us are to live in relative comfort. Too often, however, economy appears to take precedence over the other two. It needs to be reiterated that sustainability and affordability are not the same. Economically, one may not follow the other. The economist, Lester R Brown, puts it quite succinctly in his book, Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth.

Ecological Footprinting (EF) as a sustainability tool uses economic terms of reference such as Capital and Interest. Earth's resources are the natural capital and the renewability of these resources are the interest we get from them. Mathis Wackernagal and William Rees (originators of EF) use the analogy of the water barrel. The full barrel of water being Earth's natural capital which is renewed by natural precipitation – rain. If we put a tap on the barrel to drain off the water for our own use, then where the tap is situated will determine whether or not or use of the water is sustainable. For instance if we put the tap near the bottom of the barrel we will take out more water than nature puts in. However, if we put the tap near the top we would be restricted to use only what nature can replace and therefore get sustainable use of the water – the barrel won't run dry, especially if we maintain and look after it so it doesn't leak.

This is just a simple and basic view of economics, but it does highlight how we approach our use of natural resources. We must re-learn to live off the interest on our capital, not the capital itself.
Sustainability requires us to pass on, at least, the same amount of natural stock we inherited to the next generation. Wherever possible we must seek to enhance this natural capital stock as the next generations will be larger than ours.

Today we are witnessing more and more the effects of being unsustainable: changing climates due to carbon releases, increased frequency and intensity of storms, hurricanes and typhoons, photochemical smogs in cities, land, waterways and seas poisoned by agricultural chemical runoff, desertification of land, soil erosion, famine, water stress in many countries, wars for oil – wars over water rights are not far away; large scale species extinctions and huge reductions in biodiversity; greater urban sprawls, poverty, lack of social and environmental justice; oceans under stress, and the complete collapse of fisheries.
All of the above are caused by humans and our societies. Too often we may say to ourselves: “it’s only me, no-one will notice”. Well, there are six and a half billion “only me’s” on the planet and we are all beginning to notice.

We have many of the answers, we just need to act on what we know and live our lives in a sustainable manner.

Think Global :: Act Local

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Questioning My Reaction to the Naqib

Lately I have been asking some questions of myself about how I feel about some of the recent issues on Islam. 30 years ago I lived in a community with a large Asian population in the west end of Glasgow; it was a vibrant and reasonably integrated place to live, at least that’s how I saw it. I now live in another similar community south of the River Clyde and, unfortunately, the feeling in this community is not the same.

The reason I have had to ask questions of myself and my attitudes to some of these issues is this: I am in my 50s now, and having lived closely with many people from many places (even Edinburgh), I had only seen the naqib on very few occasions. In the last year it is appearing much more in my community, and before Jack Straw intervened I was having a problem with “the veil”.

It made me uncomfortable even when I did not know the person wearing it. Why was this? What is it about the veil that made me uncomfortable? Other religious symbols and clothing have never bothered me. If fact, they highlight welcome changes in our communities. So why was I reacting to the naqib in a negative way?

There are many arguments now about this; barriers between peoples etc. While we westerners may believe there to be a case for that, the people who wear the hijab do not feel that it is a barrier. They see it as a symbol of their religion and culture and so should we; maybe there should be a case for that too in any tolerant society. As someone who believes himself to be open to, and tolerant of others’ cultures I had to think long and hard about this and I can only say now what my feelings are about it.

First of all my reaction to the naqib has nothing to do with religion, this was clear to me from the start. The first thing that occurred to me was that we in the west have a culture of using other people’s facial expressions to establish trust, to “read” the person we are interacting with. It is in our psyche to distrust people who hide their face. It is the same reaction society had to the “hoodie” culture of recent years. People who intentionally hide their face frighten or worry us in the west. Our cultural story-telling has baddies such as bank robbers and the like in gangster and cowboy/westerns movies etc. hiding their faces behind masks. I am not saying, or even insinuating, that Muslim women are untrustworthy; I have not met many who were. However, to bring this to its simplest form I feel that the problem is more about how we of western culture feel about the hidden face – I believe, for the majority of people, it has nothing to do with religion.

That said, I still saw the naqib as a barrier. It seems that Muslim women wear the naqib to hide their faces from men other than their husbands or family members – if so, it is a barrier between sexes. This to me signifies woman as possession – other men must not look at you. Such an attitude is anathema to me in a world where I consider women as equals.

This is not the whole story, however, because many Muslim women born in Britain also rightly consider themselves as equals, but in these recent and troubled times may wish to wear the naqib to signify their Islamic faith. I asked myself why there was a recent upsurge in the wearing of the naqib. It appeared to be quite simple, but again this is only my view.

It may be that due to the actions of a few fundamentalist extremists (not the sole property of Islam), Muslims are under attack in the western media. Muslims, men and women, may be reacting by wishing to make a visible statement their faith. If this is the case then it should be seen as an understandable act. If another country was to belittle and threaten Britain, we would immediately see Union Flags everywhere – on T-shirts, hats, brollies etc. It is an understandable reaction to threat, and I think Muslims have the right to do the same in such circumstances, and this may be the reason why so many Muslim women are suddenly wearing the naqib when they did not do so before. On the other hand, Muslim women may just have decided to wear it for no other reason than they want to. I must respect their right to choose.

I do not know whether I am right or wrong in any of this, but having had to think about it, I understand that I am responsible for how I react to things, that my reaction to the naqib , or anything else for that matter, is my problem – maybe that is why I have begun to feel differently about the naqib. It still makes me feel uncomfortable, but less so every time I see someone wearing one. Hopefully, in a short time, it will cease to bother me at all. I suppose this is how we learn to get along with each other.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Feeding Bread to Birds

Many people think that it is a good thing to feed bread to birds. While it makes folk feel better to do so, it does the birds very little good, in fact in many cases it is bad for the birds.
The reason being is that there is hardly any nutritional value in bread for birds and whilst the bird may feel satisfied at the time, the bread provides no real nutritional benefit.  

If a small bird fills up with bread on a cold winters evening it may not survive till morning as it will not have gained enough energy from the bread to fend of the cold.
It can also be potentially dangerous if too much bread been eaten by a bird as their digestive tracts were not designed to cope with bread, and dry bread in particular can swell up inside a bird and cause blockages preventing them from absorbing much needed nutrients. These blockages can sometimes be fatal. 

Doves and Pigeons produce a milk-like substance in their crops to feed to their young.  Bread may become impacted in their crops and can lead to infection and death. “Crop Stasis” is a condition where the crop in the oesophagus, stops emptying and becomes distended with fermenting food and fluids. This is a serious, and life-threatening condition in birds.

You can buy food for wild birds at pet shops quite cheaply and this is so much safer and better for the birds. 

Why not put a bird feeder in the garden or on nearby trees and feed them with seeds and nuts (absolutely no salted nuts). These will attract all sorts of smaller birds.

Remember also that feeding birds can become a long term job as birds can become dependent on you and may stop their natural foraging. If you suddenly stop feeding them they may have difficulties feeding themselves. That said, birds are more in need of feeders these days as there is a huge decline in natural fruits and seeds in the wild due to intensive farming and the removal of natural green space such as hedgerows etc. So, feeding birds is a good thing if you do it properly, and everyday.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

North Korea and that Explosion!

Why, one would ask, does a country that has most of its people in penury, spend all it's money on arms? Let me think on that. Maybe because they are STILL AT WAR WITH AMERICA?
Contrary to popular belief the Korean War has never ended. The conflict may have ceased and the ceasefire holds, but the USA has steadfastly refused to sign any peace agreement. That agreement, if signed in 1953 would have resulted in elections being held in both the north and the south of Korea with the ultimate aim of reuniting the country after a bitter civil war. Korea, up to the end of WWII, was a colony of Japan, and was split in two along the 38th parallel by the USA and USSR in 1945; a decision oppposed by almost all Koreans.
Since the cessation of the armed conflict (1950-53), North Korea has never made any sign of attacking any other country, but still the USA has had nuclear weapons installed along the North Korean border with the South. No other country has lived under the threat of nuclear attack by the USA longer than North Korea, almost 56 years. That being so and while, technically, still at war with the USA, is it any wonder that a "military first" attitude exists in North Korea?
North Korea has made many requests to bring the USA to the table to resolve the issues, but to no avail. However, after Korea set out to build a graphite nuclear reactor program, the Clinton administration threatened nuclear attack in 1993 as part of the "Team Spirit" military exercises along the border between North and South Korea. North Korea ceased its nuclear programme as under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty countries without nuclear weapons cannot be threatened by those who have them. When Team Spirit ceased the North Koreans rejoined the non-proliferaton treaty and in 1994 Clinton made an "Agreed Framework" with North Korea within which North Korea would abandon their nuclear programme and accept two light water reactors (from which no weapons grade materials can be extracted) to provide much needed power generation. In the meantime, 3.3 million barrels of oil a year would be supplied for energy production. The ultimate move here was to normalise relations between the USA and North Korea, and end the war.
In 1999 the Democrat Clinton left office, the Republican George Bush junior took over. Republicans had always opposed the Agreed Framework, and Bush immediately set about dismantling it. He cut off the oil and left Korea with little ability to generate power. Bush went on to label the country part of an axis of evil, and in March 2002 a leaked memo reviewed it a "potential nuclear target". In November that year James Kelly, assitant Secretary of State, claimed that North Korean "officials" admitted to having reinstated their nuclear programme. Of course at the time North Korea strongly denied this. However, the claim by Kelly led to the collapse of the Framework. No political analyst can come up with a reason why the North Koreans would have made such a claim, even if it were true, given the threat to themselves at that time. It seems beyond doubt that Korea had kept its side of the Framework, but the USA reneged on almost every aspect of it, abandoning any attempt to normalize relations between the two countries.
When it abandoned its nuclear programme North Korea became completely dependant on energy imports. When Bush Embargoed these it was no surprise that this energy starved country would renew its nuclear programme.
Having just watched Iraq (which had no weapons of mass destruction) being pulverised by the USA, is it any wonder that North Korea went on to use that programme to develop a weapon of mass destruction as a bargaining chip against the same treatment? North Korea has lived under numerous threats of nuclear attack for over fifty years. It is well known that it was only the USA's fear of possible nuclear reprisal by the USSR that saved North Korea from that very fate during the Korean War.
Being already a desperately poor country, if enforced isolation and trade and economic sanctions have driven North Korea to develop "the bomb" after it had mothballed its plants and allowed its plutonuim control rods to be locked away under the watch of the IAEA in favour of light water reactors for electricity (which it never received), would not further isolation and sanctions drive them closer to the possibility of using it?
No longer a communist state, North Korea, has become pretty much an cult induced monarchy with Kim Jong Il at its head. No-one is denying that Kim Jong Il is a brutal dictator, but he knows only too well he must open out to the rest of the world. After the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1994 he made attempts to do so . It was a big move for Kim because it created a great difficulty: how to open up the country, but keep a hold on his power.
Why does Bush behave in the way that he does towards North Korea? The Korean problem was created by America, it has been sustained by America, and when a solution was in sight the whole problem was reset to the beginning by America. Why?
Because America needs North Korea to be a problem in South East Asia if it wants to maintain its control of the region. If there was no North Korean threat then South Korea and Japan would no longer require American protection. If that were so there would be no reason for having American bases on their soil; this is not the way to maintain a global miltary hegemony. The cynics among us may see the behaviour of the USA in all of this as a deliberate tactic, forcing North Korea into making itself a legitimate target once more.
What also puzzles me is why intelligent journalists who know all these things do not relate all the facts, instead tell us lies by omission, masking the depravity of the American government, and our own here in Britain? Don't they and their children live in this more dangerous world along with the rest of us?
It is the stuff of 1984 and all that ... some rulers need to rule by keeping us all frightened of boogiemen and the media is their main tool of implementation. That being the case, am I more worried about Bush and Blair and what they do in the world than all the so-called terrorists put together? Well, I am a bit worried about the latter now, but in the same way I would be bothered if someone took a stick to wasp byke in my back garden where my kids were playing!