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What should youth sociologists studY

Youth sociology will inevitably and increasingly be sociology of social change, a sociology of the future, and concern for the environment, according to Australian scholar Rob White.[i] Everyone is impacted by climate change, which White reminds us is the most pressing issue facing the world. It will influence youth identities such as becoming stigmatized migrants or hopeless victims due to climate change in the Global South, youth transitions to adulthood such as the possibility of working in new green-collar jobs, and youth subcultures such as youth organizing against environmental degradation by the wealthy. White points out that recent sociology of youth points out that youth identity is complex, malleable, multiple and hybrid. The news may focus on youth in terms of  “moral panic” as they migrate to safer lands because the “criminality of youth is touted as a major social problem.”

In developed countries like Australia studies show that young people care about the environment but many feel helpless about being changemakers, undermining belief in their social identity as activists. Youth identities are being shaped by global extremes between poverty and natural disasters in contrast to. media coverage of wealthy celebrities and instant gratification as when the young Indian hero of the film Slumdog Millionaire rises from enslavement to the wealth that comes from winning a TV game show. And of course their local community, family, friends, etc shape youth identity. White concludes, “Globalization is inherent and central to all these problems. This means a return to the grand old days of sociology, when the totality of humanity was explicitly of concern.” Scholars ignore climate change at our peril.

[i] Rob White. Climate Change, Uncertain Futures and the Socioloy of Youth. Youth Studies Australia. Vol. 30, No. 3, 2011.

Environmental Problems and Solutions

The Bottom Line: The Environment

In India, Meenakshi, age 16, compares the planet to a sick patient who needs us to be responsible in our daily lives, as by saving water, planting trees, and riding bikes. She advocates, “Adolescents: Be more alert, active and engaged. …One day, our patient might be cured, begin to thrive and become a greener, more beautiful place to live.”[i]

The bottom line is that living beings’ future depends on the environment; climate change especially hurts poor countries by reducing crop production, increasing drought or floods, and rising sea levels. In an increasingly connected world, ozone created in China reaches the west coast of the US.[ii] “Climate is an issue of intergenerational justice,” said Beatrice Yeung, a Hong Kong high school student at the UN climate talks in Qatar, 2012. “Youth see the urgency. Our leaders don’t.”[iii] Youth under 18 were prohibited from attending the conference, as were students who had protested at the previous climate talk in Durban. When NGOs were allowed to speak at official sessions, they were given a one-minute time limit. Yeung said she learned “the hard lesson that world leaders will not lead on this issue. We must create the solutions ourselves.” As usual the conference did not achieve a binding agreement to reduce global warming, agreeing only to implement an agreement in 2020, ignoring the fact that warming increases at an alarming rate.[iv]

While the over one billion people who live in abject poverty consume very little, people in wealthy nations waste resources, emitting gases into the atmosphere that produce global warming harming all the planet’s inhabitants. A spokesperson for indigenous youth organized by the UN, Andrea Landry of the Anishinaabe tribe of Canada, contrasted her traditional with modern attitudes; “We’re in a relationship with the land; it’s a living thing. It’s not a matter of take, take, take. We give to the land and the land gives to us.”[v]

Despite the hazards to our environment, in a One Young World Global Youth survey of global youth leaders, only half of the respondents said current levels of global economic activity aren’t sustainable. The facts aren’t getting to youth, partly because of well-funded disinformation campaigns paid for by oil companies and other corporations fighting regulation.

In the US, a bare majority (57%) of teens think that humans are to blame for global warming and fewer than 20% view the issue as very important to them.[vi] Nearly half said they learned nothing in school about climate change. US schools are afraid to teach about climate change, similar to evolution, so “mostly it’s missing entirely from the curriculum” said Mark McCaffrey, head of the National Center for Science Education.[vii] Most (80%) teachers polled by the University of Colorado report that have faced climate-change skepticism from parents and school administrators.

In a large survey, discussed in Chapter 7, one of the largest US generational gaps was in environmental behaviors; 15% of Millennials said they made no personal effort at all to help the environment, compared to 5% of the Baby Boomers. Only 9% of Millennials said they made quite a bit of effort to help the environmental, compared to 15% of Boomers.[viii] We’ve had 50 years of warning about threats to the environment and failed to respond. A documentary A Fierce Green Fire (2012) explores 50 years of the environmental movement. Following are the realities of environmental degradation.


Global Warming

In India, Harshil, 17, m, advocates a “Green revolution for minimizing global warming in my country.” Carbon dioxide has increased to over 400 parts per million, up 40% from before industrialization, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Coal, oil and natural gas projects in the works in China, Australia, the US, Indonesia, Canada, etc. could warm the planed by 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.[ix] At the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 one of the few agreements was that increase in temperature shouldn’t rise beyond two degrees Celsius, about 3.6 Fahrenheit.

NASA scientist James Hansen warned that two degrees of warming is “actually a prescription for long-term disaster,” as indicated by the damage already caused by the current increase of 0.8 Celsius: A third of the Arctic summer sea ice is gone, oceans are 30% more acidic, and the atmosphere over the oceans is 5% wetter leading to floods.[x] As the oceans are warming it’s killing off coral reefs and plankton, the “web of marine life.” The grasses and forests, especially the rain forest serving as the lungs of the planet, that used to contain greenhouse gases, are being destroyed. Even if we stopped increasing carbon dioxide now, warming will continue as carbon lasts a century. We’re also overloading the atmosphere with even more harmful methane, nitrous oxide (mainly from chemical fertilizers), and black soot from burning coal. Yet carbon emissions are predicted to increase by about 3% a year.

Global warming causes droughts, heat waves, and floods, so that parts of the megacity Mumbai, for example, could become uninhabitable due to storms and rising seas. The amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is over 400 parts per million, although 350.org experts state that the maximum safe level is 350 parts per million. Extreme weather changes cost about $80 billion a year, according to a 2012 report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.[xi] Despite the inaction of legislators, incumbents in the US are usually reelected.

As temperatures are rising, droughts and floods intensify, making climate change “the No. 1 national security issue for developing countries.”[xii] Between 1991 and 2010, the ten countries most damaged by weather extremes were in the global South, with Bangladesh, Burma and Honduras at the top of the list.[xiii] Climate change is most devastating in the global South where government social programs were slashed by lending agencies like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in order to pay interest on national debt. It’s ironic that although poor countries contribute the least to global climate change, they suffer the most from greatest loss in annual rainfall and climate variability.


Pollution and Waste

Will we take action to prevent global warming; pollution of water, land and air; destruction of forests; and toxins in our food and water that estrogenize humans and animals and thus reduce male fertility? Affluent parents in Chinese cities buy expensive air filters to protect their children from pollution that caused 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010.[xiv] Others protest. The film Warriors of Qiugang documents villagers who worked with activist group Green Anhui to end pollution from chemical factories.[xv]  Pollution is a growing problem in Asian cities, where the number of urban dwellers is expected to increase by 1.1 billion over the next 20 years. Clean Air Asia reported that only 16 out of 300 Asian cities were below the recommended pollution level in 2012, mostly in Japan.[xvi]

The World Bank predicted that urban waste will increase by 100% by 2025, although less than half the world’s population has adequate waste disposal.[xvii] The leading culprits in trash production are the US (over 2,000 pounds per person a year) and China, with Germany and Brazil also producing a lot of trash per capita. In developing countries I see burning waste, emitting toxic plastic gas. Waste disposal sites generate 12% of the methane released into the atmosphere, more destructive than carbon dioxide. Toxic waste sites in 31 countries are damaging the brains and IQ of thousands of children with high levels of lead and other chemicals in the soil and water and impairing the health of others who live near the dumps.[xviii] A study found that nearly nine million people live near 373 toxic waste sites in India, the Philippines and Indonesia, causing more deaths than malaria.

The amount of garbage we create is alarming: In the book and DVD about Stuff, Annie Leonard reports on her tour of 30 countries to see factories that make what we consume and the garbage dumps where our trash end up.[xix] In the US each American throws out more than seven pounds a day, but less than a quarter is recycled, unlike the Netherlands, Germany, and Sweden.[xx] They have mostly eliminated landfills with recycling programs and low-emission waste-to-energy plants.


Resource Scarcity and a Growing Population

To search for environmental solutions, the UN set up a panel on global sustainability in 2012 led by Jacob Zuma and Tarja Halonen, the respective presidents of South Africa and Finland.[xxi] Their report warns that by 2030 the world will need at least 50% more food, 45% more energy, and 30% more water. The report’s solutions include the need to listen to women, young people, and the poor.[xxii]

With a growing world population and expanding middle class, increasing demand for meat and cars strains limited resources (China is the #1 consumer of cars). The corn used to make ethanol to fill a 25-gallon gas tank would feed one person for a year. Around 50 million people enter the middle class each year with desire to consume more. I was keenly aware of this contrast after visiting simple homes in Indonesia, Egypt, India and China: See my photos of their rooms contrasted to an English girl’s room.

The documentary film Mother: Caring for 7 Billion (2011) explains that the main environmental problem is the population explosion producing more consumers at a time when birth control and abortion are under fire in the US and other countries. Three billion people were added to the planet in the last 36 years, at a rate of about 78 million more births than deaths a year, as global life expectancy increased to 68 years.[xxiii] A UN Population Division report predicts a world population of over 10 billion by 2100, up from previous projections. The birth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa is twice the global rate (4.5 babies per woman vs. 2.5). Yet earlier concern about the “population bomb” has been silenced.

Family planning methods are needed for the 215 million women in the world without the contraception they want: More than two in five pregnancies are unplanned. Educating girls is the single most powerful influence on family size. Part of the reason poverty has significantly decreased in Latin America since 1990 is the decreasing birth rate, along with economic growth, social programs and expansion of education.[xxiv] Brazil, for example, gives out free condoms, half a billion of them in 2011, which they claim is more than any other government.

A “land grab” is occurring as Asian and Middle Eastern countries with cash buy land and thus access to water in poor countries to guarantee food supply and agro-fuels.[xxv] Wealthy countries including China, India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia are buying up land in Africa to hedge their bets for future food production. So far, the World Bank calculated that land about the size of Pakistan was purchased, two-thirds of it in Africa. China announced in 2012 that it would lend $20 billion to African governments for infrastructure development. The US is also expanding military bases in Africa and fighting shadow wars in Yemen and Somalia.[xxvi]

A UN report estimates that 135 million farmers may be driven from their land because of soil degradation. When farmers have to leave their land they migrate to cities where some may have no recourse but to resort to illegal ways to make money, as explained in Topic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence by Christian Parenti (2011). He explains that food prices go up with reduced production of basics like wheat, soybeans and soy, a burden for people who spend 40% of their earnings on food like the average Egyptian. Food riots caused by price hikes in 2007-2008 occurred in more than 24 countries. Food shortages can lead to starvation and mass migrations.[xxvii]  A UN report addressed the need for agroecology, the science of sustainable agriculture, endorsed by 59 countries—not including the US and the Nourish 9 Billion campaign.[xxviii]

By 2010, the United Nations reported that almost 214 million people had migrated, mainly to cities (20% of the international migrants moved to the US). Around 44 million more people are refugees fleeing violence or persecution, or recently climate refugees, such as those escaping drought in Africa. This trend will increase, especially for people harmed by sea level rise, loss of arable land, or drying up of underground water aquifers.

By 2030, if current rates of consumption continue, we would need the resources of two planets, which we obviously don’t have.[xxix] The US is the top consumer. Australian Paul Gilding, author of The Great Disruption: How the Climate Crisis Will Transform the Global Economy (2011), believes we’re using five times more resources than the world can sustain so it would take not two but five planets to support current consumption. The point is we’re running out of resources like oil and fresh water. Gilding believes “The Great Disruption” is inevitable. It started in 2008 with the increase in food and oil prices and ecological changes such as melting ice caps. It takes a crisis to take action and Gilding thinks we’re there. He predicts that new companies will reshape the economy and progress won’t be measured by quantity of stuff produced but by happiness indexes.

Governments measure economic health by growth, increase in consumption that the planet can’t support, so a new standard of success should be quality of life. Bhutan pioneered a new metric with its “Gross National Happiness” model with 72 indicators, including free healthcare, education for girls, and sustainable agriculture. More than half of the country is protected in national parks and reserves and 99% of children are in school. The United Nations General Assembly adopted Bhutan’s 2012 resolution titled “Happiness: Toward a Holistic Approach to Development.” Bhutan’s prime minister told the UN gathering, “The present GNP development model no longer makes economic sense because it compels boundless growth on a planet with limited resources.”[xxx] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for replacing the current economic system with one that recognizes that “social, economic, and environmental well-being is indivisible.”


Renewable Energy

Germany is a leader in producing renewable energy by providing incentives for individuals to install solar panels and other resources. Hawaii is another model of advances in solar energy.[xxxi] Because Saudi Arabia can run out of crude oil, perhaps by 2030, the government has allocated more than $100 billion to develop solar energy. China is the leader in producing renewable energy and has set goals unlike the US.[xxxii] For the US as a whole, most (82%) of the new electrical generation installed in the first three months of 2013 consisted of renewable energy sources (biomass, geothermal, solar, water, wind.)[xxxiii] Solar powered lamps are also available to replace kerosene lanterns: D.light sells them to developing countries, one of the growing number of companies selling to the “bottom of the pyramid.”[xxxiv] A California family was able to eliminate most waste, only an amazing jar full in a year. They describe how on their blog Zero Waste Home.[xxxv]

Living in harmony with our environment doesn’t need to be at odds with lifting people out of poverty. In Bangalore, India, a utility company installed a solar panel, as on a 25-year-old rice farmer’s house. He makes payments for the electric power it generates by using an application on his mobile phone. When he pays off the cost of the system, he’ll have free power instead of dirty kerosene lamps and having to walk 45 minutes to a nearby town to charge his phone. These microgrids for mobile phones in areas without electric utilities are part of the Third Industrial Revolution, says author Jeremy Rifkin.[xxxvi]

As well as solar panels, the electricity revolution uses wind power and biomass generators as in Germany, the world’s largest renewable power producer. Utilities pay a high rate to individuals or companies that produce electricity with clean energy. The funding comes from a small increase in monthly utility fees. The Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of California, Berkeley is developing fuel made from sugar sources such as corn, grasses, and eucalyptus—any fast growing plant. Globally, investments in renewable energy surpassed investments in fossil fuels for the first time in 2010.

Buildings can generate energy to put back in the grid, as does the Richardsville Elementary School in Bowling Green, Kentucky. It earns about $2,000 a month using solar power and geothermal power, with solar tubes piping sunlight into classrooms. It employs an energy manager to improve school efficiency and students are involved in monitoring energy use. The Bullitt Center in Seattle was built according to a green building certification program called the Living Building Challenge, which includes generating the structure’s own solar energy and water. Rainwater showers are available for workers who bicycle to the building and composting toilets produce compost for farming.

A 19-year-old Dutch engineering student, Boyan Slat invented a device to help clean up the five plastic debris clustered in giant gyres—the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is about twice the size of Texas.[xxxvii] The recovered plastic can be recycled to help pay for the cleanup. The cleaner is powered by solar and waves.


Angry Youth Environmentalists

So far, UN climate change conferences haven’t been able to make binding agreements for specific ways to stop global warming. The Durban conference in 2011 agreed to work towards an agreement that all countries would have the same requirement to reduce greenhouse gases by 2020 and extended the Kyoto Protocol for five more years. Abigal Borah, a 21-year-old US college student, was a member of the youth delegation. She interrupted the proceedings to say, “I am scared for my future. 2020 is too late to wait [for binding emission cuts]. We need an urgent path to a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty. We need leaders who will commit to real change, not empty rhetoric.” She was led out by police as seen on YouTube.[xxxviii]

Nations couldn’t agree in 2012 about how to divide emissions cuts and little progress was made towards a global climate pact. Part of the problem is a 2011 study found that nine out of ten climate change deniers were linked with Exxon Mobil.[xxxix] In 2012, the Rio+20 Earth Summit addressed the need to create a paradigm shift from continued growth to a “green economy,” as specified in a UN report available online, but nothing tangible resulted as in Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen, and Durban or Qatar.[xl] Nothing was done to cut emissions that are raising temperatures.

A 17-year-old environmental activist addressed the Rio+20 Earth Summit sponsored by the UN in 2012, with a similar message to that given 20 years ago at the first Rio Summit by 12-year-old Severn Suzuki from Canada. Both girls’ speeches are on YouTube. Brittany Trilford told the representatives of 188 nations at the largest-ever summit that she represented the world’s three billion children who demand action so they can have a future. In an interview with radio host Amy Goodman she said that youth are a powerful force, but they sometimes underestimate their strength and should “take power” as “the voice of youth is so strong, so clear, so truthful.”[xli]

The 2012 Rio+20 environmental conference bowed to Vatican pressure and didn’t include references to reproductive rights and gender equality in its final document or any other real action items, despite being physically surrounded by pollution in Rio’s water and air. Youth activists called the UN Major Group for Children and Youth responded from Rio de Janeiro on their webpage in disgust: “You failed to liberate yourself from national and corporate self-interest and recognize our need to respect a greater more transcendental set of boundaries.”[xlii] They wrote defiantly,


So get out of our way and…

We will create strong global institutions

We will create new paradigms of wealth and prosperity

We will act as the voice for future generations, one that you so willfully ignored.

We will stand united beyond borders and bridge the national interests that divide us

We will implement what you have not.

 We are moving forward decisively with action. We are not deterred.


The official conference report “The Future We Want” was mocked outside the plenary hall in the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition’s handout titled “The Future We Bought.” They formed an Occupy-style protest with the human microphone and consensus decision-making as people stopped to see what the crowd was about. After two hours they decided to leave their badges in protest, chanted “Walk out—don’t sell out,” and joined the people’s summit in another part of Rio. The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds predicts that little action will be taken by these conferences in the next decade but has hope that technology will develop cheaper and cleaner fuels like natural gas.

In response to inaction in the UN climate change conference in Qatar in 2012, youth met at the Change-Course-Conference in Switzerland to focus on grassroots local actions to help communities adapt to climate change.[xliii] A leader of the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change, Ibrahim Ceesay (27) said solutions rest on young people. He explained, “They are innovative, energetic and can make the bridge between those who make the policies and those who are affected by them. When I go back to Gambia, my task will be to tell a woman in a village how she is going to be affected by the warming of the planet.”

The UN and other websites provide information for youth who want to protect the environment.[xliv] School environmental education projects are provided by organizations like the Center for Ecoliteracy so that youth can be more informed about the science of climate change and what to do about it, such as painting flat urban roofs white would be equivalent to removing half the cars off the worlds’ roads.[xlv]

Activist youth environmental organizations in the US include Generation Waking up, the iMatter Movement, and Yes! The website It’s Getting Hot in Here explains that it is “the voice of a growing movement-–a collection of voices from the student and youth leaders of the global movement to stop global warming. Originally created by youth leaders in 2005, It’s Getting Hot in Here has since grown into a global online community with over 300 writers from countries around the world.”[xlvi]

Seven teenagers and the iMatter Youth Council sued the US government in 2011, asking the government to reduce carbon emission by 6% each year, cap emissions at 2011 levels, and do reforestation.[xlvii] The leader of the iMatter Movement is 17-year-old Alec Loorz, who was initially galvanized at age 12 by watching Al Gore’s video An Inconvenient Truth. At age 18, another youth leader, Andy Lipkis founded TreePeople in Los Angeles where he leads agencies to work together to utilize water to mitigate flooding and drought and has planted over two million trees.[xlviii] Los Angeles high school students are involved in greening their schools, as are students in South Africa as shown in a video.[xlix] Other youth environmental groups are listed in the previous endnote. University students are taking the lead in environmentalism: The Sierra Club’s annual ranking of the greenest colleges in 2012 put UC Davis at the top of the list, followed by Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford, and the University of Washington.

A Yale University dropout founded what he says is the largest youth organization in the world to address the climate crisis: Billy Parish became the head of Energy Action Coalition when he was 25. His organization developed campaigns to have colleges commit to zero carbon pollution, started a company called Solar Mosaic where the public can invest in ecological enterprises, and wrote Making Good: Finding Meaning, Money, and Community in a Changing World with co-author Dev Aujla. Parish says, “Change starts with the simple belief in progress.”  He recommends, “Choosing the right people to work with is the single biggest factor that will impact your success.”

Solutions to these world problems have a common theme: Think globally, act locally. For example, environmentalist Bill McKibben’s solution for how to slow pollution is to do more locally, smaller, and slower in the communities where we live (see www.350.org), as well as campaigning for large institutions to divest oil stocks. Students are actively lobbying their universities to divest with some successes.[l] A model of this act locally approach is provided by a privileged Indian named Sanjit Roy visited a rural village for the first time when he was 20. As a consequence, he decided to start a Barefoot College in Rajasthan to teach poor women from around the world to make simple green technology like solar panels and cookers, and other assists to rural development.[li] Books provide models for how to develop local economies and communities.[lii]

An evolutionary biologist, David Sloan Wilson described how he applied biology to improve local quality of life in Binghamton, NY, in The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time (2011). In order for groups to cooperate successfully he found they need to utilize eight design principles: strong group identity and sense of purpose, seeing reward for your work, consensus decision-making, a way to monitor progress, reasonable and graduated sanctions for those who don’t follow the principles, fair conflict resolution, local autonomy and decision-making with coordination with larger groups. Other suggestions for neighborhood building are listed in an article about “10 Ways to Love Where You Live” and The Village to Village Network.[liii]

In order to solve the climate crisis, various grassroots movements need to work together: anti-GMO, anti-fracking, anti-natural gas extraction, traditional farming activists vs. Confined Animal Feeding Operations responsible for up to half the greenhouse gas emissions, conservationists, natural health advocates, and the climate movement. If we remain passive, farming land will turn to dust bowls in parts of the world, the oceans will rise, more species will go extinct, and extreme weather become the norm.[liv]


[i] Youth panels interviewed by the UNICEF, 2011.


[iii] Stephen Leahy, “Civil Society, Youth Pushed to the Margins at Doha,” Inter Press Service, December 3, 2012.


[v] Marzieh Goudarzi, “Indigenous Youth Step up to Protect their Roots,” Inter Press Service, February 17, 2013.


[vi] A survey of 13-to-17 year-olds by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, 2011.


[vii] Edward Humes, “An Inconvenient Subject,” Sierra Club magazine, September, 2012, p. 16.


[viii] Jean Twenge, W. Keith Campbell, and Elise Freeman, “Generational Differences in Young Adults’ Life Goals, Concern for Others, and Civic Orientation, 1966-2009.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, March 5, 2012.

[ix] “Point of No Return,” February 11, 2013, Greenpeace.


[x] Bill McKibben, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Rolling Stone, July 19, 2012.


[xii] Walden Bello, “Weapons for the Weak in the Climate Struggle,” August 16, 2012.


[xiii] Stephen Leahy, “Extreme Weather is the New Normal,” Inter Press Service, April 3, 2012.


[xvi] Bettina Wassener, “Asian Cities’ Air Quality Getting Worse, Experts Warn,” The New York Times, December 5, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/06/world/asia/asian-cities-air-quality-getting-worse-experts-warn.html?_r=0

[xvii] Stephen Lacey, “Waste Expert, Think Progress: Climate Progress,” June 20, 2012.


[xviii] Stephen Leahy, “Toxic Waste on Par with Malaria as a Global Killer,” Inter Press Service, May 9, 2013.


[xx] Edward Humes, “Garbage In, Garbage Out,” Sierra Magazine, March, 2012.


[xxi] Jacob Zuma and Tarja Halonen, “Seizing Sustainable Developments,” Project Syndicate, February 6, 2012.


[xxii] “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosinghttp://www.un.org/gsp/report

[xxiii] Malcolm Potts, et al., “Editorial,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Biological Sciences, 2009. http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1532/2975.full.pdf

[xxiv] Alicia Bárcena, “Growing Out of Poverty,” FINANCE & DEVELOPMENT, March 2012, Vol. 49, No. 1


[xxv] Graham Peebles, “The Ethipian Land Giveaway,” Redress News, June 2, 2012. http://www.redress.cc/global/gpeebles20120602

[xxvi] Nick Turse, “Obama’s Scramble for Africa,” Huffington Post, July 12, 2012.


[xxvii]Michael Klare, “Post-Apolcalyptic Fantasy Becomes Everyday Reality,” The Nation Institute, August 7, 2012.


[xxx] Costas Christ, “Happy Talk in Bhutan,” National Geographic Traveler, October, 2012, p. 34.


[xxxi] Erin McCoy, “Building a Solar Economy: 4 Lessons from Hawaii,” Yes! Magazine, April 8, 2012.


[xxxii] Janine Zaharia, “Saudis Investing to Go Green,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 4, 2013.


[xxxiii] Energy Infrastructure Update Report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects. The rest came from natural gas. Wind was the leading producer.

Click to access mar-energy-infrastructure.pdf

[xxxv] www.zerowastehome.blogspot.com, plus a book of the same name by Bea Johnson (Scribner, 2013). Their five Rs are : refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot (compost).

[xxxvi] Benn Sills, et al., “Farmers Foil Utilities Using Cell Phones to Access Solar,” Bloomberg News, April 11, 2012.


[xxxix] Mihai Andrei, “9 out of 10 Top Climate Change Deniers Linked with Exxon Mobil,” Zmie Science, May 10, 2011.


[xlii]  http://uncsdchildrenyouth.org

[xliii] Isolda Agazzi, “Youth Call for ‘Change of Course’ to Solve Climate Crisis,” AlterNet, December 11, 2012.


[lii] Rob Hopkins. The Transition Handbook: For Oil Dependency to Local Resilience. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009.

Jay Walljasper. All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons. The New Press, 2010.

[liii] Ross Chapin, “10 Ways to Love Where You Live,” Yes!, June 14, 2012.


Beacon Hill Village’s The Village Concept: A Founders’ Manual. http://www.beaconhillvillage.org/content.aspx?page_id=22&club_id=332658&module_id=77064

Jay Walljasper. All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons. New Press, 2010.

[liv] Zack Kaldveer and Ronnie Cummins, “Food, Farms, Forests and Fracking: Connecting the Dots,” Organic Consumers Association, May 9, 2013.


What drives future social change according to Al Gore

Al Gore identifies the six revolutionary drivers of global change in his book of that name as:

*An interconnected global economy and electronic communications grid. This leads to “the awakening of the Global Mind” or “Earth Inc.” to reform inequities.


*Power shifting from West to East, from nations to private groups, and from politics to markets. This shift is associated with dysfunctional governance in the US and the world community and with increasing inequality between rich and poor in both developed and developing nations–with the exception of Latin America.[i] In the US, the top 1% has more wealth than the bottom 90% and Congress can’t make laws without permission from lobbyists. Democracy and capitalism have been hacked. The global recession of 2008 resulted in the loss of 27 million jobs.


*Unsustainable growth in population and consumption of resources, plus climate change. About a quarter of the 90 million tons of pollution we put into the atmosphere daily will last more than 10,000 years. Gore advocates starting with a tax on carbon omissions to reduce global warming.


*New science technologies that permit seizing control over evolution, including nanotechnology, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence.[ii]

[i] Al Gore. The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change. Random House, 2013, p. 9.


[ii] v


Predictions for Global Future Trends from Think Tanks

Three forces shape the future, according to Rob Salkowitz in his book Young World Rising: a large youth cohort in developing nations while the developed world ages; ICT and global databases made possible by wireless Internet and mobile broadband services, and smartphones; and entrepreneurship from the bottom-up. He notes that another positive solution is the empowerment of women as “patriarchal structures are increasingly challenged.” There’s a lot of work to be done since women comprise the majority of illiterates living in poverty around the world.  In Futurecast  (2008), Robert Shapiro agrees that the forces shaping the near future are globalization and an aging world population and also places importance on the role of the US as the military superpower.

In addition to technological advances and environmental problems shaping our future, The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) identified “The Seven Revolutions.” The major areas of change that will impact our future are: population growth/decline, aging, migration and urbanization; resource management of food, water, and energy; technology including biotechnology; information and knowledge including a vast amount of data; economics and security vs. transnational threats; and governance including corporations and NGOs.[i] The Center believes the Millennial Generation has a different worldview with which to deal with these changes, and is more globally aware and technologically savvy.  UCLA’s Global Studies program adds the influence of global media and communication, which inform us about global phenomena such as environmental degradation, epidemic disease, mass migration, and human rights issues.

The National Intelligence Council’s examination of global trends leading to 2030, the analysts state that the first megatrend is the hegemony of the US and the West is over.[ii] The financial crisis is fragmenting Europe and China is the main challenge to the “liberal international order.” Instead of the US continuing as the superpower it has been since 1945, it faces “the rise of the rest–” Russia, China, the EU, India, Japan and Brazil. Goldman Sachs lists the “Next Eleven” rapidly developing middle-tier countries as Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Turkey and Vietnam. Emerging countries will face a “middle class explosion” which will change internal politics with more demand for democracy and products like cars and meat that strain the environment.

It’s possible India could balance China’s rising dominance—one of the main questions of the century. By 2030, India will surpass China’s population, will be the third-largest economy, and have the “youth dividend” of more young workers. A related question is whether China’s one-party rule or India’s chaotic democracy will prevail. Will the multiplication of powerful economies be able to work together for good or will disorder ensue? Will the US get its economic house in order and provide continued leadership? A British CEO of an NGO, Jeffrey Gedmin asks the central question, “If the West cannot solve its problems and set a convincing agenda of its own future, how can we pretend to influence and manage the peaceful rise of the Rest?”[iii]

The economics of globalization have spread the West’s beliefs in science, individualism, separation of government and religion, and the rule of law, but new hybrid ideologies could emerge influenced by local culture, the increasing focus on religion, environmental issues, and growing power of individuals through IT.[iv] The report predicts, “The role assigned to religion by the state and society probably will be at the center of these ideological debates within and across societies.” Migrants to cities tend to gather by their religious affiliation, such as Muslims in Europe. Political Islam is increasing in the Sunni world with Islamic parties in charge in Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Gaza, Libya, and perhaps Syria. Nationalism will also intensify. A similar report in Europe predicts that values will converge as people face similar economic and political problems.[v]

The Global Trends report’s second megatrend is the increasing power of individuals due to reduction in poverty, more access to education and IT for both women and men, and better health care. For example, 65% of Africans have smartphones. This power of individuals or small groups can be used for good or for violence with bioterrorism and cyber weapons. For the first time in history, a majority of the world’s 8.3 billion people will not be poor, as the middle class will double from the current 1 billion.[vi] The most rapid growth will occur in Asia. An expanding middle class is associated with greater democracy as well as populist dictators.[vii]

The third megatrend is rapid aging of the world’s population that will rise to 8.3 billion, especially in Japan, Europe, South Korea and Taiwan. This “pensioner bulge” isn’t good for economies but it is good for the development of peaceful democracy which is more stable when youth bulges decline and when incomes increase. However, the costs of care for elders could cause younger people to “feel a growing sense of inner-generational inequality.”[viii] These influences are happening in China where income is increasing and the population is aging. But today more than 80 countries have populations with a median age of 25 or less. Increasing participation of educated women in the workforce will mitigate some of the economic problems of an aging population. The report predicts that the fastest pace in closing the gender gap will be in East Asia and Latin America.

Fourth, with a growing middle class and increasing world population, this will lead to scarcity of food and water, as well as not enough jobs. Demand for food will go up by 35%, for water by 40% (with a belt of the most water stress in northern Africa, the Middle East, central and southern Asia, and northern China—also the areas of largest projected population increase), and energy by 50%. Nearly half the world’s population will live in areas with severe water shortages. Global warming will increase these resource scarcities, which will encourage migration to urban areas (which will house 60% of the world’s people) and to other countries to find work. Inequality will remain between rural and urban dwellers, encouraging migration to cities. These megacities, “localism,” and regional alliances will be increasingly powerful.

In regards to the possibility of increasing democracy in China, although we see frequent protests and increasing ability to get around government censorship on the Internet, the education system does not allow for critical thinking. When I asked Yuan why secondary school students don’t ask questions in class, he said part of the reason is with class sizes of 50 to 100, there isn’t time for individual dialogue. But the main reason is, “The education system is brainwashing–they are taught to believe something, to only know the textbook is the truth. Students may not even have the ideas that they should question anything. They just take in. For the few independent thinkers, they might ask the teacher privately after class about their doubt.”

A girl from Oman also does not value democracy or critical thinking, “Opposition is not a common thing in Oman because we know how much our leader did for us in the past 40 years and we know that all he wants is the best for his people” (Afra, 17, f). However, in a country where 45% of the population is under age 25, the problem of youth unemployment is causing some unrest even under the absolute rule of Sultan Qaboos.[ix]

Another report on the future uses the UN Millennial Goals as a framework.[x] The Millennium Projects’ global futures research began in 1996. On the positive side, the researchers report humans are getting richer, healthier, better educated and more peaceful. People care about the effect of disasters on others and provide aid to devastated countries like Haiti and Japan, while supporting the spread of democracy. With 30% of us connected via the Internet, more people are aware of the need for unified action to end global warming and other environmental hazards now that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest it has been in at least two million years.

On the negative side, the UN futures’ report points out that half the world lives in poverty, undermining stability as the gap between the rich and the poor widens dangerously. The population in developing countries is increasing while food prices are rising, water resources are drying up, corruption and organized crime are on the rise, and climate change is accelerating. The researchers point out that we have the solutions to these problems. They look hopefully to the coming biological revolution to bring answers more profound than even the industrial or information revolutions. This revolution may develop synthetic life forms for food, water, medicine and energy. Information sharing via computers and the Internet could lead to tele-education and tele-medicine to make this information available to more people.

In another report on global trends for 2030 presented to the European Union in 2012, the authors identified three major trends that will shape the world. First, the growing middle class (it will number 4.9 billion) will empower the individual—including women–with education and IT. The report predicts the global literacy rate may pass 90% by 2030. These educated people may generate a growing feeling of belong to a world community with an emphasis on human rights and environmental issues. Second, more importance will be given to sustainable development because of scarce resources and global warming, but progress could be slowed by corruption and border disputes as between China and India over water resources. Third, power will shift from national governments and from the US as the dominant nation to NGOs, corporations, regional associations, and megacities in a “polycentric world.”[i] As more people are educated, an expectations gap could result due to governments’ inability to improve the quality of life. The US and China will probably be the most influential countries, India will continue to rise in power, and Russia and Japan lose their great power status of the 20th century.

[i] Álvaro de Vasconcelos, ed., “Global Trends 2030: Citizens in an Interconnected and Polycentric World,” European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS), April 2012.


The Millennium Project report suggests that a simple step forward is eating less meat as it adds more greenhouse gases (18%) to the atmosphere than transportation. It takes 2,400 liters of water to make a hamburger. China moved past the US as the largest polluter but it leads in searching for green alternatives, allocating $600 billion for green growth in its Five Year Plan for 2011 to 2015. Lester Brown lists various environmental solutions in his free book Plan B 4.0, including raising taxes on carbon emitters.[xi]  The central issue is we have the solutions to the enormous problems that face our planet but not the will.

[ii] Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds. National Intelligence Council, 2012. http://www.dni.gov/nic/globaltrends

[iii] Jeffrey Gedmin, “The Rise of the Rest; Decline of the West?, Global Trends 2030, p. 6. http://gt2030.com/2012/05/27/the-rise-of-the-rest-decline-of-the-west/

Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds. National Intelligence Council, 2012. http://www.dni.gov/nic/globaltrends

[iv] Ibid., p. 13

[vi] Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, p. 10.

[vii] Ibid., p. 11.

[viii] Ibid., p. 56.

[ix] Brain Whitaker, “Oman’s Sultan Qaboos,” The Guardian, March 4, 2011.


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