Imagine it: you have come home after a long day – presenting project proposals, attending endless lectures or working an exhausting 8 hour shift for your part-time job – and all you want to do is have a nice hot meal and watch some TV.
Reality Check: on average 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity.
Imagine it: you attempting to take immediate action during an emergency in your home, without any light to see by. It is easy to admit the simple fact that Western society takes access to energy for granted, I myself am guilty of this
I believe that we can no longer marginalise major issues such as climate change or loss of biodiversity as insignificant global issues. We need to hold accountability for the actions we take and stop mortgaging future generations in order to “patch up” our previous environmental impacts. If humanity does not transition to clean, sustainable energy, social well-being will have no more space left for development.
Reality Check on Global Consumption
An acronym I learnt during my undergraduate studies concerned with sustainable development back in Canada was NIMBY – Not In My Backyard. This acronym is something that has stuck with me ever since one of my professors brought it to my attention. NIMBY stands for any individual that does not accept accountability for environmental or social disasters that occur worldwide. In truth, certain nations are not held accountable because, when it comes down to it, the whole thing revolves around money.
Why can we not change that mindset and think about future generations? What is going to happen to your child or grandchildren if humanity continues to consume at the current rate? If global consumption continues at this level, I honestly believe that war will no longer be waged over oil and other fossil fuels, but nations will be fighting over natural resources like clean water and enriched soil.
I am not saying that the world is coming to an end, but what I believe is that we need to enhance and reinforce international legislations in order to actually make a difference. Because when no one holds accountability, no meaningful actions can be made. When we can measure the negative impacts already created, we can make a difference. We have only just touched upon clean and sustainable energy, so why is humanity slowly transitioning away from a high carbon economy?
Being the individual that I am, I am truly sorry for my pessimistic perspective. But I believe that through all of this frustration I can hopefully channel and spark that motivation to accomplish not just one, two or three of the sustainable development goals, but all of them. To alleviate world poverty, have basic education and provide the basic needs can be the beginning of enhancing and protecting the environment.
The Passion that Drives Me
On a personal note, a reason why I decided to be involved in the Master’s of Environmental Management and Sustainability at Monash was because of a simply inspiring and motivational man named Alfredo Moser. Alfredo Moser amalgamated his creative and intellectual domains, along with current ongoing environmental issues associated with developing countries, by inventing the indoor bottle light.
For those who are not aware, the bottle-light bulb is a mechanism used to provide light without using electricity, with an item that we dispose of on a daily basis. By using nothing but a piece of plastic, water and some bleach, Alfredo figured out how to kill two birds with one stone; how to illuminate a dark room while mitigating the ‘end-of-life’ cycle for several of those bottles. I am not saying that this is a permanent solution but I believe it is a giant beneficial and sustainable step towards clean energy, and it is being adopted globally.
It was discovering Alfredo’s invention that I realised there is so much more to the world than the latest gadgets and expensive clothes. We are the generation that should use our advanced technology and innovative minds, like Alfredo has, to alleviate issues rather than using a universal and standardised approach. I have realised that future generations need our help, especially with retaining natural resources through sustainable development.
In reality, Australia as well as other countries do have a long difficult process ahead to transition to efficient energy: greenhouse gas emissions are increasing rapidly due to energy related practices (p.6). Adapting to such practices will take time and individuals will need to diminish their level of consumption down towards meeting the needs of a modern lifestyle. In turn, future choices requiring energy use must deliberate on environmental, economic and energy sectors, operated by the success of a society as less dependent on high-bond energy sources – namely fossil fuels such as coal.
Furthermore, MEMS has guided my passion into environmental planning with a heavy influence on sustainable development. In relation to my thesis – how political parties influence the public discourse on climate policies within Australia – I hope to terminate that ‘NIMBY’ mentality. There is only one finite planet that can sustain only so much within its ecological threshold.
My question to you: what could you do to reduce your impact?
Thank you to everyone who came along and participated in our first ever Teach Series event this Wednesday. Our inaugural student speaker was the Association’s own Lead Writer and Website Designer, Ida, discussing how the fashion industry relates to international development.
We were delighted with the turn out but for those unlucky enough to miss it, Ida has summarised her presentation and captured highlights from the fantastic discussion that came from it. We have even included some relevant links for further exploration of the topic.
And as always, we invite you to continue the discussion in the comments section below.
Fashion and Society
Consumers have been led to expect more variety at a lower price, putting pressure on companies to produce higher volumes at lower costs. This economic and profit-margin squeeze ultimately lands on the factories, who compromise human rights, wages, safety and working conditions.
The reason companies are interested in production locations such as Bangladesh, is the overall low costs but also that there are low regulations and not many limiting laws, allowing companies to put unreasonable pressure on the factory managers.
Corruption is a huge problem in the fashion industry. One student highlighted that a common practice in Cambodia is to pay up to two months wages to the ‘insider’ who got you the job. A debilitating societal tradition if you are already living on the poverty line.
We also heard of garment workers beginning to mobilise and demand their rights, putting overdue pressure on governments.
Fashion and the Environment
The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry globally. The value-chain is filled with problems of water, chemicals, trash and so on.
Cotton is highly water-consuming, it takes up land that could have been used for agriculture and heavily relies upon fertilisers that seep into groundwater and pollute local water sources. Certain fertilisers have been linked to waves of farmer suicides in India.
There is also a huge energy cost to clothing: in production, transport, when we wash our clothes, iron them, dry clean them, drive them to the second-hand shop, ship them overseas for charitable causes and so on.
All this energy is wasted when we do not keep our clothes for a long time. The lifecycle of clothes is short, we put our clothes in landfills, which produce methane. Or we give it to charity, to a friend or companies that will recycle it, depending on its quality of course.
Fashion and the Pressure of Consumerism
We use clothing as a key personal identifier: clothes are our chosen skin. A responsible sustainable approach to clothing could focus on letting only a few pieces of clothing identify us, rather than a continuous change of outfit or refreshing our ‘look’ define us.
Gender plays a role in consumerism, women are expected to look a certain way when they go to work e.g. wear high-heeled shoes. The men in the room also contested that there are plenty of pressures on them! Media reinforces expectations of how everyone is supposed to look.
It is very important that we do not only consider how the ‘West’ consumes and exploits the ‘South’. A participant pointed out there is a growing middle class in many countries such as India, China and Brazil, that partake in high consumption as well.
Fast Fashion and the Recycling Norm
When we give our clothes to charity we think we are doing good. However, one study found that there are so many clothes given to charity that even if it was given away for free, there would be too much to go around. Another study found that only 20% of the clothes are used or resold.
The question is what happens to everything else? Much of it is shipped to places like Haiti, disaster areas. The problem with this is that the local markets cannot compete with the low prices of these clothes, ruining their chances of starting up their own locally produced clothing stores.
Who is Responsible for the Fashion Industry’s Habits?
The question was posed: who is responsible for the social and environmental issues linked with the fashion industry?
We as consumers have a choice to only buy from places that support our own values in terms of production. To ignore societal pressures to look good in a fast-consuming world.
However looking at the production side this could lead to economic problems for garment workers. If the consumer demand falls for cheap clothing or if we buy less they potentially lose their only source of revenue.
This is a central and essential question linking capitalist consumerism and neoliberal development. Who is responsible to action change in the industry? Would this change be beneficial for all or just a clearing of consciousness for the consumer? Leaving local ecosystems destroyed elsewhere…where do you see the responsibility falling?
Further Exploration of the Subject
These are a few apps designed to help you buy more ethically: ‘The Good On You’ and ‘Shop Ethical’.
Here’s an Ethical Fashion Guide:
Further information can be found at these two websites:
And as always, there are some fantastic TED talks on related topics:
The Association have discovered that Monash University does not have an ethical policy surrounding its supply chain, for example where it sources Monash uniforms or your Monash hoodies. If you are interested in becoming an agent for change on this matter, please contact Ida.
Thank you again for your excellent participation! Please do share below if you know of any other apps, websites, articles or brands that can help everyone be inspired to consume more ethically.
You can find the presentation here.
My interest in development began as a humanitarian impulse to experience using your time for the benefit of others (which was highly addictive to be honest). When I began to get more involved, I noticed something: development is not about feeling right; development is about thinking right. Asking the right questions is the main goal of this career path. If we cannot be assertive in our questions, we will not find the correct answers.
Let’s keep in mind that our work is unequivocally with people and for people. We have a great responsibility in our hands. It is true that the damage is not in the immediate horizon as it would be with a doctor, or an engineer. Our mistakes take time to be noticed, sometimes too much time for us to notice. Reviewing the questions we make a lot of times is something of extreme importance and that is why discussion is an essential part. I therefore want you to think about the following question but in order to bring some structure to the arguments I will establish some facts and ideas about the concept.
Technology is one of the ideas that today shape the world, the world has become so familiar that now we imply the meaning of it and we are sure that we know the meaning, I get surprised when I start the research of this note and I find out that technology is not even well defined from one to another dictionary.
Technology is defined as:
“The branch of knowledge that deals with the creation of and use of technical means and the interrelation with life, society, and the environment, drawing upon such subjects as industrial arts, engineering, applied science and pure science.”
The idea of technology is not only a definition, it is a reality. Technology began when our ancestors understood that their only advantage against claws, size, weight and strength was their intelligence. The creation of the first artifact was the beginning of technology and it evolved fast; beginning with a simple stick and a pointed stone to create a hunting tool, the discovery of how the fire could be created, and the wheel.
But today from my point of view we have taken it too far and too far wrong. I am a little pessimistic but let’s face it, our generation is drowning in technology. I think we have lost the initial focus of technology which was ensure survival and improve the human condition. Now we use it to manipulate other things such as speed of food growth, quantity of production and even interaction between people.
Ethics of technology
Technology is rarely questioned today and it is seen as beneficial and is even sometimes confused with development. But the reality is that not all technological advances are not always beneficial for development. The first example I can think of is genetically modified food.
At first thought it is a great thing to produce a twice bigger apple from a tree one year old than a small apple from a 5 years old tree. The problem is that the apple does not have the real properties of an apple anymore, we don’t understand genetics fully to equal the properties of a ‘organic’ or not genetically modified apple. In the long term it can become even harmful for the health of people by not fitting the nutritional requirements, and by the increase the real quantity of apple that each person should consume to meet the original nutritional properties. That is why we are now capable of paying a higher price for an organic apple than an apple with an unknown process of growth.
Another aspect which could be harmful is the early use of technology. The idea of electronic devices for young kids have made them very intuitive, if you give a five year old a tablet to play with, there is a guarantee that the child will find a way to play the games already installed in the tablet. The downside to this is that we are losing social skills. As proof of this, next time that you meet with your friends notice how much time you spend with them actually and how much you spend looking at your cellphone. As I said above somethings are too subtle for you to notice and it takes time but every minute you spend watching the screen is a minute you lose of real human interaction. One of the many quotes attributed to Einstein in popular culture is ‘I fear the day technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.’ With this idea, it is confirmed how today technology is making us useless and the principle that technology’s main function was for, is now opposite; technology is making us lazy and unskilled. When it comes to social media we need to understand that it is great for some things but it also affects our social skills, it is always easier to send a message to somebody, than taking time to talk face to face.
Our field does not fall short for this idea of technology, I remember holding a talk with two friends about drones that would be able to bring bottled water to areas struck by natural disasters. In the beginning it sounded like something positive and helpful. But somehow this technology impact should be studied deeper because it has a lot of unidentified implications. A robot will fail to notice of another person to point the needs that are not being covered, a robot or a machine cannot understand the necessity of clothing, illness and of course empathy. The distance that it creates from person and community is created by this non- human intervention and relying into drones to bring assistance. Instead of having brigades of people providing water and supporting the people who have been affected in the disaster we would have robots that are not capable to uplift the communities’ spirit the way that human interactions do.
With all these ideas what do you think?
Is technology synonymous with development or is it not a necessary aspect to have in development? Can we create a mechanism in order to identify whether or not technology is being used in a harmful or beneficial manner? Most importantly, how can we better incorporate technology to improve the development of a community?
Happiness. Isn’t it the most important thing one can achieve in life? What is a life without happiness? In 2012 the United Nations published the first World Happiness Report, which measures Happiness through GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and perception of corruption. Recently the 2016 World Happiness Report was published, and Denmark was ranked as the most happy country in the world.
I am born and raised in Denmark. So I should have some kind of understanding of leading a happy life, if we shall have any trust in the statistics. In Denmark there is a high tax system which enables every citizen access to free healthcare, free education including university, and a social safety net in case of unemployment. In contrast to many other countries, you can’t buy an education, meaning the education system chooses their students based on merit and not from social class or income. This also enables social mobility and freedom of choice in life.
In terms of reaching the Sustainable Development Goals, every person should ideally have this level of well-being. What seems to be the problem is that the economic and social wealth that currently exists in Denmark is based on roughly 200 years of economic growth, and Denmark’s ecological footprint is 5.5 global hectares (gha) per capita. This high ecological footprint in itself is an indicator that everyone simply can’t have this standard of living. How do we, as a global and interconnected society handle these kinds of paradoxical, complex and ethical issues?
The World Happiness Report is supposed to indicate development based on factors other than just GDP, but isn’t the economy still an underlying mechanism in many of the factors that are being measured? How can a poor country have social support, a good healthcare system, and long life expectancy without economic growth? I guess a very central question in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is: how we can ensure fairly, the well-being of everyone without killing our planet? Furthermore if happiness is measured by factors that implies economic growth, how can we make happiness compatible with environmental sustainability?