Scientific American asks, “If the world is going to hell, why are humans doing so well?”
For decades, apocalyptic environmentalists (and others) have warned of humanity’s imminent doom, largely as a result of our unsustainable use of and impact upon the natural systems of the planet. After all, the most recent comprehensive assessment of so-called ecosystem services—benefits provided for free by the natural world, such as clean water and air—found that 60 percent of them are declining.
Yet, at the exact same time, humanity has never been better. Our numbers continue to swell, life expectancy is on the rise, child mortality is declining, and the rising tide of economic growth is lifting most boats.
Cities provide a good example of this dichotomy. They are a cost to the environment with their consumption yet they cause less of a human footprint. So, is the net result that cities are good or bad?
In the September issue of Scientific American they look at the conundrum of environmental concerns increasing yet the ”human development index“—an aggregate measure of life expectancy, literacy, educational attainment and per capita gross domestic product beloved by economists and wonks—has never been higher. “Human well-being is, on average, growing,” the authors write.
“That said, one thing is clear: We live in the Anthropocene—an era when everything from the atmosphere to the layers of rock laid down for the future are dominated by human activities. Management is no longer a luxury. We had better get good at it.”
Antropocene – an era dominated by human activities.
What if a city, let’s say one that is 2 to 3 million in size, decided to take seriously their ability to manage and get good at it. What would be a good cause to try to tackle?
Hunger? Management? Could it tackle such an issue?
Brazil’s fourth largest city, Belo Horizonte, decided to tackle this issue. This city once had 11 percent of its population living in absolute poverty and 20 percent of its children going hungry. Then in 1993 a newly elected administration declared food a right of citizenship. The newly elected officials took the stance that if you are too poor to buy food in the market—you are no less a citizen. The elected officials saw themselves as accountable to even the hungry.
“The new mayor, Patrus Ananias—now leader of the federal anti-hunger effort—began by creating a city agency, which included assembling a 20-member council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system. The city already involved regular citizens directly in allocating municipal resources—the “participatory budgeting” that started in the 1970s and has since spread across Brazil. During the first six years of Belo’s food-as-a-right policy, perhaps in response to the new emphasis on food security, the number of citizens engaging in the city’s participatory budgeting process doubled to more than 31,000.” (quote from Yes Magazine)
What is the cost?
“Around $10 million annually, or less than 2 percent of the city’s budget. That’s about a penny a day per Belo resident.
“Behind this dramatic, life-saving change is what Adriana calls a ‘new social mentality’—the realization that ‘everyone in our city benefits if all of us have access to good food, so—like health care or education—quality food for all is a public good.’
“The Belo experience shows that a right to food does not necessarily mean more public handouts (although in emergencies, of course, it does). It can mean redefining the ‘free’ in ‘free market’ as the freedom of all to participate. It can mean, as in Belo, building citizen-government partnerships driven by values of inclusion and mutual respect.”
A former manager within this city agency, Adriana Aranha, explained “I knew we had so much hunger in the world. But what is so upsetting, what I didn’t know when I started this, is it’s so easy. It’s so easy to end it.”
We live in the Anthropocene—an era when everything from the atmosphere to the layers of rock laid down for the future are dominated by human activities. Management is no longer a luxury. We had better get good at it.
Real Estate, architecture, city planning, etc. etc. It is about doors, walls, roofs, streets. It is about managing how we as humans live in this environment -what comes and goes, what is let in or kept out. We had better get good at it!