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Cuba Flies Lone Flag for Sustainability

category international | environment | other press author Thursday October 11, 2007 23:10author by Tech1.0 Report this post to the editors

According to a new study on ecological sustainablity published in New Scientist, Cuba is showing the way on life in a post-oil world.

(from last week's New Scientist - I'm publishing this in the inter-national public interest...)

"We don’t need environmental evangelicals to tell us that sustainable development is a good idea. Yet, if that is our goal, we are heading in the wrong direction - with the exception of Cuba. So says the first study to examine the ecological impact of changing lifestyles around the globe.


We don’t need environmental evangelicals to tell us that sustainable development is a good idea. Yet, if that is our goal, we are heading in the wrong direction - with the exception of Cuba. So says the first study to examine the ecological impact of changing lifestyles around the globe.

An international team led by Mathis Wackernagel of the Global Footprint Network looked at how the living conditions and ecological footprints of 93 nations have changed in the last 30 years.

They used the ecological footprint (EF) index, a tool devised in 1993 by Wackernagel and William Rees, his PhD supervisor at the University of British Columbia, Canada. EF quantifies the area of land required to provide the infrastructure used by a person or a nation, the food and goods they consume, and to reabsorb the waste they produce, using available technology. This value can then be compared with the resources that are actually available to people on a regional or global scale. EF has become a popular index, and was used recently, for example, by conservation group WWF to calculate that two more planets would be needed to support everyone in the world in the manner of the average UK citizen.

However, rather than just measure consumption, Wackernagel and his colleagues wanted to measure how close countries are to developing in a sustainable way. The problem is that “sustainability” is an elusive concept. “Nobody dares to say what it actually means,” Wackernagel told New Scientist. “We believe we provided a robust measurement.”

For each nation with reliable data, they calculated how many planets would be needed to support the global population if everybody adopted that nation’s lifestyle as it was in 1978, and in 2003. They then expressed each figure as an Earth-equivalent ratio (EER) and plotted each value against the nation’s corresponding UN Human Development Index. The index is a score of between 0 and 1, and is a function of a country’s average life expectancy, adult literacy, level of schooling and per capita GDP.

To develop sustainably, the researchers assume a country must have an HDI of at least 0.8 and a maximum EER of 1 (see Diagram). A lower HDI would mean a nation is not developing adequately, while a higher EER means it is gobbling up too many resources.

By looking at each country’s historical trajectory, a clear pattern emerges. People everywhere have a better lifestyle, but their footprint is growing at a rate proportional to their wealth. Developed countries in particular have done very little to reduce their impact. Only one nation, Cuba, is developing sustainably, and probably not for long (Ecological Economics, DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2007.08.017). “Cubans have high life expectancy and literacy, and were forced into a smaller footprint because of the oil embargo,” says Wackernagel. “But they are now economically more successful, and will tend to use more resources.”

Critics point out that EF calculations do not take into account issues such as pollution from certain toxic chemicals, and place too much reliance on others, such as carbon footprints, which may be alleviated by the invention of new technologies. Even so, “it’s a broad indicator of the direction things are moving, and it’s an excellent tool for communicating to the public and decision makers,” says Jan Vernon, who reviewed the validity of EF for the UK government.

The study, therefore, carries a credible message: we have all moved away from sustainability, and the world has entered ecological overshoot. “We have not taken sustainable development seriously,” Wackernagel concludes.

New Scientist link




Measuring sustainable development — Nation by nation (sciencedirect)

and for more on this theme check out the fascinating documentary below,

The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil


Related Link: http://tinyurl.com/3bdju5
author by Eamonpublication date Tue Dec 04, 2007 11:49author email oreamon at yahoo dot co dot ukReport this post to the editors

Of course to qualify this it must be stated that one of the reasons that Cubans may not leave such an ecological footprint is because they cannot afford- to a large degree- travel within the island and certainly not internationally. The equivalent of 20 US dollars a month leaves little for leisure travel and many recreational activites that the developed world can afford and that can harm the environment. Perhaps this is a factor in them 'showing the way'.

author by Tech1.0publication date Fri Feb 15, 2008 23:27Report this post to the editors

Eamon, I'm sure the constraining of consumption is a factor. But as Monbiot points out in Heat, ( http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/11/07/heat/ ) air travel will need to be constrained practically completely anyway, as there's no way it can continue as it is.

Cuba is an example of an efficient delivery of a wide range of public services within what the Earth can take. Due, largely, to its unfortunate history it is not an example in terms of democratically reaching a sustainable solution. But that doesn't stop us from examining how such a human-development vs consumption result can be generated for the Earth as a whole.

Personally I think it shows a possible solution although ideally coupled with more participatory mechanisms....

Protecting the Environment in a Participatory Economy

"....The crucial difference between participatory planning and market economies in this regard is that the participatory planning procedure generates quantitative estimates of the costs and benefits of pollution while markets do not. Consequently, even “good faith” efforts to internalize the cost of pollution through taxes or permits in market economies are “flying blind,” and opportunities for “bad faith” intervention are ever present. Estimates from “contingent valuation surveys” and “hedonic regression studies” are less accurate than the indicative prices for pollutants that are generated automatically by the participatory planning procedure. Moreover, because everyone knows estimates based on surveys and studies are unreliable, it is possible for interested parties in market economies to challenge estimates they find inconvenient. Interested parties frequently finance alternative surveys and studies that arrive at predictably different conclusions regarding the damage from pollution and benefits from environmental preservation.

Since, unlike participatory planning, market systems generate no “objective” estimates that could serve as arbiters, debates over the size of pollution taxes in market economies invariably devolve into a cacophony of “he says, she says.” The participatory planning procedure described above, on the other hand, provides credible estimates of the damage done by pollution because the above procedure makes it in the interest of pollution victims to reveal the extent of the damage they suffer truthfully as a byproduct of simply participating in the planning procedure. ..."

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