Commentary: Building on Rio+20 To Spur Action for Sustainable Development

For 40 years the world has been struggling to come to terms with the growing need to protect the our environment and the natural systems that support all life. During that time, the focus has gradually shifted from specific and local environmental problems and challenges to a holistic appreciation of the need to attend to the operation of planetary processes and geosystems on a global basis and the way in which the totality of human activities affects them. This requires attention to the whole global economy and the way in which it could operate more sustainably. Several United Nations Conferences have been milestones on this journey of transition toward a more sustainable global economy, and there will no doubt need to be more before the journey is complete. The Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (“Rio+20”), was the latest step in this long march and has launched a number of important new initiatives that need to be brought to fruition in the years ahead. Basic Earth Systems and the Growing Urgency of Global-Level Action To Protect Them Scientific understanding of the way in which the whole earth and its biosphere operate as a single integrated system has increased by leaps and bounds over the past 50 years. We have learned how the physical, chemical, geological, and biological systems and cycles interact together, and how they have held the earth and its biosphere in fairly stable equilibrium over many thousands of years. As this geo-scientific knowledge has increased, it has also become clearer that this long-standing equilibrium is under threat. Biodiversity and natural resources...

Wall Street Wakes Up: Sustainable Investment and Finance Going Mainstream

The pens slipped easily across the paper, about every eight minutes. At regular intervals, Heads of State entered the innermost sanctum and solemnly signed their names, committing their nations to the Framework Convention on Climate Change. The year, 1992. The place, the landmark United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, known as the “Earth Summit” at Rio de Janeiro. The outcome, a legally binding commitment from the industrialized nations to begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with climate change below 1990 levels by 2000, with a moral commitment from developing countries to join the effort at a later date according to their capacity. The success rate 25 years later—nearly zero. I was in the room when those signatures hit the page, observing the procession of Heads of State with Jacques Cousteau, with whom I worked at the time as Vice-President for International Affairs and writer, and a film crew. In the weeks before the Rio Conference, we had made two visits to then President Bush at the Oval Office in the White House to urge him to attend the Rio conference and sign the climate change Convention, even though at the time he faced outright stiff opposition from his own vice-president, not to mention many Congressional and business leaders, to doing so. But, in the end, Bush went to Rio and signed the leather-bound Convention book, thus reaffirming U.S. leadership in the battle against climate change and other trends in environmental degradation. He was bold and it took political courage. Rio was a heady time—nations had labored hard to come to some coherent conclusions and commitments to act....

Students Speak: urbanisation is one of the greatest challenges to health

Developing countries are grappling with the dual burden of infectious diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis, and a growing epidemic of “lifestyle” diseases including type 2 diabetes. As the range of illnesses facing people in low- and middle-income countries grows, how should the world prioritise its response? To mark World Health Day, we asked students which health crisis deserved the greatest attention. We had a fascinating range of responses – many thanks to all who submitted one. Below is a selection of our favourites. If we’re clever, we can tackle many health problems at once Where there are few stones available, we need to be hitting two birds with one. A better focus would be on strengthening health systems and building health-promoting environments that can tackle communicable and non-communicable diseases alike, rather than creating fragmented single-disease programmes. Yes, we should no longer think of type 2 diabetes as a disease of the wealthy and, yes, non-communicable diseases (NCD) in low-income settings have certainly not been given the attention they deserve. But this new attention need not be in the form of fragmented interventions aimed at addressing one specific disease or another. Many NCD interventions can be smoothly integrated into practices and procedures already in place for prevention and treatment of infectious diseases. For example, mobilising and educating community health workers can have lasting effects on the control of diseases of both categories. With mounting global challenges such as climate change, environmental degradation and increasingly powerful corporate influences, it seems ever more critical to address the determinants of health through comprehensive policies and through exploring models of integration both within...

Behind the bright lights of Vegas: how the 24-hour party city is greening up its act

Taking shade under a Mesquite tree shouldn’t seem exotic in the Mojave Desert. Nor should catching the aroma of sage flowers, or brushing past spiky yucca and tongue-limbed agave plants. But on the fabled Las Vegas Strip, the very notion of a park is novel. Vegas still prides itself on selling unfettered indulgence. Round-the-clock gambling, high-end nightclubs and decadent restaurants are not going away. Yet the opening of the Strip’s first green space last month is further evidence that, regarding its relationship to the environment, Sin City is turning a new leaf. Featuring native Southwestern plants, recycled metal furniture and fountains built with locally sourced quartz, The Park, as it’s called, is designed to create a sustainable microcosm of the surrounding desert landscape and provide a leafy path away from the Strip’s tourist-choked sidewalks. It’s a bold move away from fabulist themes that ignore the local ecosystem. Ambitious plans by MGM Resorts, Wynn, and Las Vegas Sands are overshadowed by an ongoing battle with regulators and the state’s biggest utility. “We think guests are increasingly valuing the sustainability of destinations they pick,” said Cindy Ortega, chief sustainability officer at MGM Resorts, who is behind The Park. “This seems like a little place with some plants and a sculpture in it, but this is a paradigm shift for Las Vegas.” To avoid using the city’s dwindling water supply at Lake Mead, MGM tapped into an on-site well. Designers from landscape architecture firm Melk installed plants that are accustomed to arid conditions. Trees and shrubs are irrigated with a drip system, which conserves 72% more water than sprinklers. Rather than install...

EPA Grants for Sustainable Development Technologies

The EPA which is also known as the Environmental Protection Agency has awarded a school grant for nearly 7 different Universities. All of the grants are given to the Universities to fund various projects that will assist with the creation of a variety of sustainable technologies. The main purpose of the sustainable inventions will be to improve the lives of Americans, increase the development of the economy and make sure the environment is taken care of. The majority of Universities contain quality research facilities which will help guide the creation and innovation of influential sustainable technologies. One of the Universities that received funding was the Daytona Beach Aeronautical College. Nearly $12,845 dollars was given as a grant to fund a system in which solar water can be purified. The purification system is intended to assist individuals when a disaster strikes around the region. The solar water purification system is also intended to be extremely portable as any individual can store it in a backpack and can easily access it. The water system will also function by the energy of the sun but can also be utilized for nearly 72 hours without solar power. Other states across the country also received funding for various sustainable technologies. The grants were given to nearly 45 teams in other universities and colleges so that they can compete with providing innovative sustainable technologies. Each of the individual teams has a time span of nearly 8 months to come up with a particle design which will eventually be brought to a particular design expo which is located at the infamous National Mall in the D.C....

IBM Powers Smarter Sustainable Development in Dubuque

As Iowa‚Äôs oldest city, Dubuque, IA has a lot of nerve trying to reboot as Dubuque 2.0 by developing a model of sustainable development based on real-time data fed directly from IBM‚Äôs servers to individuals in the community. Surprising thing, though, is that the pilot project seems to be doing quite well. ‚ÄúSmarter Sustainable Dubuque‚Äù is a public/private partnership between the City of Dubuque and IBM Research. The project began in Sept 2009 with an aim to reduce water and energy consumption without cutting back on services, followed by a plan to make travel easier in and around the city. Each of these is being implemented in phases, as pilot projects. First of all, they set up a new water metering system utilizing locally manufactured components. Secondly, IBM set up a portal where citizens could log-in to check on personalized water and energy use, along with suggestions on how to become more energy efficient. On another level, IBM was sending all the aggregate data (without personal information) to the city planners for overall analysis. The results speak for themselves ‚Äì a 6.6 percent reduction in water usage for the 151 households who participated in the 9-week pilot study. IBM says the aggregate annual water savings across 23,000 households in Dubuque, IA would be 64,944,218 gallons, or $190,936. “Today, municipalities and citizens more than ever need to understand their patterns of behavior and how to change them,” says Milind Naphade, program director, smarter city services, IBM Research. “Our sustainability initiatives in Dubuque prove that, by using advanced analytics, community engagement, and cloud computing, government officials and citizens will have access...