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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sustainability and Poverty, guest blogger Roger Kuhns

Sustainability and Quality of Life:
Moving to Eliminate Poverty

By Roger Kuhns

What is poverty? What comes to mind? Thousands upon thousands of images, sounds, smells, and experiences. And what is driving the poverty of people in the most developed countries to those that struggle for even basic needs and services? It is an imbalance. This imbalance is caused by many things, but we can understand it best – I think – in terms of the pursuit of sustainability.

Sustainability is about people. It is about people because our families and our communities are ever striving for a good life.

Sustainability. Certainly an over used word. But, still, a meaningful word.

Sustainability, as it applies to us, is the finding of balance between humans and nature so that we balance what we use with what nature can provide.

Sustainability does not mean unchanging. It means that we as a people can adapt to change and thrive for the long-term by providing for our needs through responsible, renewable, and repurposable practices: sustainable practices.

Sustainability is our measuring of what we do and what we use towards a good quality of life, and how it impacts the sphere of our ENVIRONMENT, enriches the sphere of our COMMUNITY, and brings equitability to our sphere of the ECONOMY. We do this while working towards a zero net impact to the Earth. We look at this as individuals and families, in our communities and businesses, and within our government.

Sustainability is our quest.

Consider the sphere of the planet as the sphere of the Environment. Held within this sphere of the Environment is the sphere of the Community. Within the sphere of the Community is the sphere of the Economy. Like a nested puzzle, all parts are dependent on the others, and the parts together make the whole, but none individually can truly stand-alone. The Environment, the Community, and the Economy – the three spheres of Sustainability are fundamental, equal, and in the human context one cannot survive nor thrive without the other.

When the balance within and between these spheres is out of balance, then poverty and inequities thrive. This might seem like a philosophical perspective, but it hones in on human behaviors very rapidly, and becomes a practical guide of actively pursuing enriching all three spheres of sustainability through our individual actions on a daily basis.

This perspective helps me because within each of these three spheres are all the aspects of human civilization. Now think of that – that is a lot of things; both tangible and intangible, as well as renewable and finite.

But by understanding our behaviors, consumption practices, tendencies and beliefs we can develop an estimation of how well we are behaving ethically, conserving resources, distribution of goods and services and wealth, while providing and using services for ourselves, and those people in our communities. We can assess our human impact to the Earth’s natural systems. Poverty arises when these are out of balance, and when unintended consequences such as climate change alter the landscape such that a population can not grow their own food or access fresh clean water, and when such impacts drive migrations, territorial conquests and war. In this scene we can recognize what we must do to modify our behaviors so that future generations have a good quality of life.

In the sphere of the Environment, therefore, we find ecology, energy, food, greenhouse gases, water, natural resources, and recreation.

We know there is still a wide spectrum of human rights and poverty issues to resolve and improve. We know we have much work to do on justice for all. And we know that there is room for improvement in how we embrace culture, historical aspects of our communities, and balance social differences and beliefs. There is still a strong need to better understand how our government can help improve the lives of all of us.

In the sphere of the Community, therefore, we find education, equity and justice, health, quality of life, municipal improvement, cultural, historical and social components, and transportation.

We know that the increasing separation of the classes through wealth is damaging the ability of many people to achieve a good quality of life. We know that many buildings are too big and energy inefficient. We know that jobs and job training is an on-going issue, as is surety in retirement.

In the sphere of the Economy, therefore, we find built spaces, business, economic, economic equitability, governance, jobs and recycling.

These categories within the three spheres of sustainability encompass all major aspects of our civilization.

Sustainability, then is our measuring of what we do and what we use towards a good quality of life, and how it impacts the ENVIRONMENT, enriches our COMMUNITY, and brings equitability to our sphere of the ECONOMY. We do all this while working towards a zero net impact to the Earth. We look at this as individuals and families, in our communities and businesses, and within our government.

A key approach is to realize we need to dramatically increase our educational efforts globally to balance the spheres of sustainability. But how do we absorb the knowledge of the holistic picture of sustainability? How do we understand the consequences of our actions, both good and intended, and not so good and unintended, now that we have this foundation of forward progress using the three spheres of sustainability? It is through education, in particular an iterative approach.

I developed an approach I call iterative education. It is the learning and building upon knowledge and the repeated cycle of learning through the spheres of sustainability to continue to take on new information and experiences that helps us connect all the elements of our society towards improving the quality of life for people. It is the use of the three spheres of sustainability as filters through which we connect the many elements of sustainable applications in our society. 

In the figure below is illustrated a flow chart to help people connect the many facets of environment, community and economy. In this diagram I’ve drawn loops that connect concepts and practical applications – needs and necessities.  For example, we know that population and resource shortages directly impact the quality and availability of water, energy and food. Without these things we see societies driven towards poverty. The production, transportation, and waste that result from their use have huge impacts on the sphere of environment. Therefore, incumbent within the water, energy and food requirements are a multitude of sustainable practices from water conservation, aquifer recharge, pollution control, waste management, renewable energy applications, agriculture, and food processing and distribution, to name a few. We find improvements to the sphere of environment as the use of water and energy and food are better understood in the context of sustainability.

Continuing on with our education, we find that quality of life for individuals, families, employees and so forth are improved or degraded depending on the abundance or scarcity of water, energy and food. Lower quality of life situations or imbalances in the spheres of environment and community overlap to inform us about the balance of human rights, democracy, basic health care and economic parity or equitableness; when these are out of balance we see societies driven towards poverty. By strengthening the community we find people are strengthened as we learn about the pressures on the sphere of environment, and improve that sphere with the result of improving the sphere of community.

Again, as we continue through the chart, we find the continuing interaction between the spheres of sustainability. Bringing in the sphere of economy we now see the daunting challenges of poverty, war, disease and terrorism impacting the quality of life for people on every scale. In essence addressing the issues on the chart helps us understand the cause and effect, the intended and unintended consequences of our actions. By practicing iterative education and using sustainability as a holistic filter to understand linkages and dependency, as well as consequences, we find that all the spheres begin to improve as the overall quality of life of the people in a community improves.

Sustainability is our quest. This is a path, using nature as a guide, to alleviate poverty. We need the efforts on every scale – from national and international policies right out to the individual volunteer who helps with a food bank, or teaching agriculture or helping to bring fresh clean water to a town. We need all these talents at once, and to coordinate them through our lens of sustainability.

                Roger J. Kuhns, PhD, LEED GA
                Facebook: Roger Kuhns Sustainability Worlds