A Few Recommended Readings:

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 7.26.14 PM

1. The Global Goals for Sustainable Development – This weekend world leaders from across the globe will convene in NYC to commit to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development aiming to end extreme poverty, fight inequality, and tackle climate change. A variety of organizations, nonprofits and NGOs are working alongside the UN to inform the world population of these targets. As stated by Project Everyone: “The more famous these global goals are, and the more widely they are understood by everyone, the more politicians will take them seriously, finance them properly, refer to them frequently and make them work.” Educate yourself on what the global goals are and what you can do personally to assist in accomplishing these necessary and ambitious goals by 2030.

2. The Rise of the Nudge – Governments are investing in research teams that use behavioral economics and psychology to create ‘nudges’ to meet certain policy goals. As highlighted in this WSJ article, this science based approach can be used to fight poverty and test ways to help the poor find economic security. Unfortunately, this isn’t always how these data-driven teams are being utilized. A recent article from Aid Thoughts found that a Behavioral Insights Team has been tasked in the UK to figure out how to get illegal migrants to return to their native land voluntarily. Perhaps the team can test the effectiveness of Hungary’s wall?

3. This Cartoon Succinctly Explains the Background to the Syrian Conflict – Some background to help people understand how and why the situation in Syria developed as it has. Heed the warning and be prepared: Syria won’t be (and isn’t) the only country to suffer under the stresses wrought by climate change and political instability. Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 9.10.50 PM

The Great Wall of China Isn’t Visible From Space, Pollution Is

Credit: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

To witness first-hand the ever-evolving results of China’s massive economic growth over the last 30+ years is an impressive and simultaneously nerve-wrecking sight. They build buildings at an unfathomable rate, bestowing cities with a super-ability of transformation, constantly condensed into shorter and shorter periods of time. They are among nations investing aggressively in infrastructure, including clean energy, and are producing the greatest farm output of any country in the world. They are also bearing the consequences of their rapid development, particularly and most noticeably in the form of hazardous air quality. Coupled with and compounded by the challenges of climate change, China’s mitigation actions to limit or decrease CO2 emissions thus far have proved insufficient.

The graph below offers a stark contrast between the top two producers of CO2 emissions in the world–China and the U.S..

Though the current situation is grim and hard to swallow, China can and has taken action to cut back on CO2 emissions, including increasing investment in renewable energy from wind turbines and setting a target to generate “15% of energy needs through renewable energy by 2020.” China is also home to the city of Rizhao, a city of roughly three million in Shandong Province, which has been recognized by the United Nations for its habitable environs and, more notably, for its dedication to clean energy generation through large scale solar panel adoption “Rizhao has effectively reduced its energy consumption by 30 percent and achieved annual CO2 savings of 52,860 tonnes from solar water heaters.” (-WFC) 

By providing incentives to residents and educating the public of the benefits of solar power generation, plus the favorable market conditions for consumers seeing a decrease in solar panel prices, the people of Rizhao embraced renewable energy. This success story doesn’t have to remain an isolated exemplar. To take greater steps towards mitigation, China should continue to invest in clean energy solutions, provide incentives for consumers themselves to invest in renewable energy at home, and provide subsidies for clean energy industries. Enforcing stricter regulations for emissions and continuing to focus on decreased coal production will not only aid in improving conditions for those residing in the middle country, it will also assist in turning down the heat worldwide.

Climate change is a battle every single living thing will be impacted by and a challenge we all must tackle through making conscientious decisions about how we consume. China’s scale never ceases to shock me; it is a place unlike any other with a significant contribution of consumers capable of making decisions with widely felt consequences, for better or worse.

Ethical Tourism with Tao Expeditions

This site has been quiet the last few weeks as my partner and I took a break from teaching and ventured off to the Philippines for the Chinese New Year holiday. Though we spent some time relaxing in the well-traveled paradises of Palawan, the bulk of our trip was spent on the water traveling from El Nido to Coron on the Balatik–a stunning, wooden sailing vessel designed after the ancient paraw ships of the Philippines. For six days and five nights, we maneuvered across the brilliant blue waters, our captains Toto and Gener at the helm, tracing our way around remote island villages sprinkled throughout this span of sea with 24 fellow guests, nine crew members, and one fearless Jack Russell, Datu. The sights were, no surprise, completely breathtaking and oh-my-god-amazing. Though I could brag at length about the painted sunsets, intricate and ornate coral reefs, abundance of exotic neon fish, and belly busting feasts prepared by our ship’s very own Chef Jeff, I mainly want to highlight the invaluable work of the organization behind our life altering adventure, Tao Expeditions.
Displaying IMG_8797.JPGPhoto credit to fellow guest Janet Tejada
Tao developed from humble beginnings as two friends with a passion for sailing and exploration transformed their remote expeditions into a business plan. From their simple dream, Tao evolved into a mixed breed of aid organization and travel group. Tao Expeditions is very explicit with guests that their trip offerings are not tours–though they take guests to beautiful sights and comfortable base camps (emphasis on camp), the experience one has is mostly up to the individual. Your day can be spent relaxing and reading on the boat, sun bathing and snorkeling, swimming and hiking at base camps, or whatever else tickles your fancy.
Displaying IMG_8674.JPG
With the money Tao generates from sharing some of the Philippines’ most incredible sights, they provide services and training to under-served locals residing in communities spread across the islands. These services include building and operating schools in villages, providing quality, sustainable materials for building homes and structures in their village, and assisting with garden and farming projects. Additionally, Tao plays a role in improving the economies of these small villages by not only offering locals the opportunity for training in specific skills and trades, but also guaranteeing them a market by which to generate income through the guests that visit while on expeditions.
On our expedition, a portion of our payment to Tao went to the village women who were trained masseuses and thus an evening of our vacation was spent having our sore muscles massaged beneath the starry night sky. Similarly, Tao will pay villagers to use the structures they’ve built, with materials donated by Tao, as base camps during expeditions. Tao also trains young, interested Filipino’s in the ways of the sea–providing training in all aspects of sailing and boat management–and the especially gifted end up working and earning wages as crew on Tao’s small fleet. These are just a few of many ways in which Tao has aided in improving the quality of life for Filipino people, particularly those that are outside of the common zones of government assistance.
Displaying IMG_8739.JPG
As an organization, Tao Expeditions has a demonstrated and palpable mission of sustainability, empowerment, and celebration of Filipino people, land, and culture. I didn’t have to look very hard or far to bear witness to the powerful positive impact this group has had on human lives and the environment. Despite the cliche, it’s no stretch for me to proclaim this adventure a life changing one and it certainly re-affirmed my passion for learning as much as I possibly can about the economics of sustainable development in order to best serve those in need. Organizations such as Tao, and the faces behind it, give me hope that we can meet our shared goals as a planet to do and be better for each other and our Earth.

Poverty = Hunger?

Generally, when people discuss poverty, hunger enters the conversation–it’s natural to think that if people are poor they are likely struggling to adequately meet their nutritional needs. However, through research and experiments, what scientists and economists have found is that most people, even the extremely poor, can afford to purchase enough calories to live and be productive. If this is the case, why are there still people who aren’t getting enough to eat? The answer, of course, is complex and multifaceted.

In their text Poor Economics, Abhijit Banergee and Esther Duflo examine how foreign aid policy has failed due to deep misunderstandings about poverty, and call for more careful planning and greater reliance on scientific evidence to steer policy decisions aimed at eradicating poverty. A portion of Poor Economics focuses on dis/proving the nutrition-based poverty trap, the idea that “there exists a critical level of nutrition, above or below which dynamic forces push people either further down into poverty and hunger or further up into better-paying jobs and higher-calorie diets.” They turned to places like India, where in 2004 only 2% of people surveyed stated they did not have enough to eat (that’s down from 17% in 1983), the Philippines, China and Morocco to research, among other objectives, the effects of food subsidies and determine how much of a person’s income is spent on food. Their research turned up some startling results.

“…if calories are the main driver of poverty, then we should expect people to spend every extra cent on the cheapest calories. What we see instead is people opting to consume tastier, more expensive food when they get the chance.” –Poor Economics

In the Philippines, a person can consume 2,400 calories a day for 21 cents PPP, but they would be limited to consuming mainly bananas and eggs. Despite this available access to calories, the poor tend not to purchase the quality food that would benefit them calorically and food aid programs generally emphasize quantity over quality.

While in Morocco, Esther and her research partners found that in some of the very poor villages they visited, people had cell phones, televisions, and even DVD players, but survived off of a very modest diet (leaving some unable to work due to insufficient calories). Any extra income people had tended not to go towards obtaining better quality, calorie rich food; instead, extra income was saved for small luxuries or, if food was acquired, better tasting food, not food that was actually better for a person to improve their work capacity. Though it may be obvious that the benefits of a nutritious diet are significant, for some, the need to momentarily escape the doldrums of poverty through entertainment outweighs the need for a nutrition upgrade.

Of the research shared in Poor Economics, what I found most fascinating was an experiment conducted in China seeking to analyze the impact of food subsidies on food purchasing decisions. This experiment was conducted by two economists, Robert Jensen and Nolan Miller, who were in search of an ever-elusive Giffen good–a good that people consume more of as the price increases, thus violating the Law of Demand.

Jensen and Miller found that rice (and wheat, though I’ll only address the former for the sake of brevity) in China fit the parameters for a Giffen good and decided to test their hypothesis by providing a random selection of families in the southern province of Hunan a six-month subsidy for rice. They collected data on family purchases during the subsidy period and afterward. In the end, the results found that when rice was subsidized, families actually bought less of it and instead used the extra income to purchase more expensive foods, mainly purchasing more meat and shrimp. These families were actually consuming less calories when their food was subsidized. When the subsidy period was over and the price of rice increased, families purchased more rice and thus violated the Law of Demand, proving rice to indeed be in this instance a Giffen good.

The important point this particular example illustrates is that food subsidies and food aid policy don’t always have the intended or expected outcome and can, in fact, result in the populations most in need making decisions that are counterproductive. Current food aid policy requires some rethinking. Not only is there a ton of money, and food, being wasted in the way food aid is currently being handled, but it’s also not as effective as other means of helping those in poverty. Esther Duflo cites two different programs with promising results–in Colombia school lunches are being sprinkled with micronutrient packets and deworming programs at schools in Kenya are not only improving the health condition of children, but also helping to improve their future income by keeping children in school for longer.

I’ll leave you with this:

“If we don’t know whether aid is doing any good, we are not any better than the medieval doctors and their leeches.” -Esther Duflo

A few recommended readings for your weekend

1. Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty – “The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches.”

Last year I taught at a school in Nashville, Tennessee in which 99% of students were eligible for free and reduced lunch. Though it’s crucial to hold all students to high academic and behavioral expectations, it’s a near impossible challenge for students to learn when their concerned about their basic needs and too often experiencing great emotional trauma from the impacts of poverty on their lives. Even in developed nations such as the U.S., there’s still much to be done in regards to working towards sustainable development and equality.

2. Is a Climate Disaster Inevitable? –  An op-ed with an eye on the universe focused on the importance of studying sustainability: “Depending on initial conditions and choices made by the species (such as the mode of energy harvesting), some trajectories will lead to an unrecoverable sustainability crisis and eventual population collapse. Others, however, may lead to long-lived, sustainable civilizations.”

3. Entrepreneur Changes Life in Uganda by Turning Waste Into Fuel – Sanga Moses was tired of seeing the forests in his village disappear and children lose the opportunity of education because they needed to go farther and farther away in search of wood to burn for their family’s fuel. He developed an eco-friendly solution, recycling sugar cane and coffee waste to create charcoal briquettes.

4. The Ethics of the ‘Singularity’ – A brief piece on the possibilities in our future of super-intelligence and a need to consider the ethics of such a situation.

 

Things I’ve Learned:

Roughly 1 in 7 people on the planet live in extreme poverty.

Proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day, 1990 and 2010 (Percentage)
Source: The Millennium Development Goals Report 2014.

Bar Chart

Though it’s a staggering, sad figure to consider that 1.2 billion individuals live in extreme poverty in our world today, it’s worth noting that overall the number of individuals living in extreme poverty continues to decrease (and the same can be said for the child mortality rate and HIV incidence rate).

Last year, Bill Gates made the prediction that “by 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world.” There are many in the world, most notably the 24-hour media machine, that weigh in on dooms-day models of our future, painting a grim picture of our current state of affairs: great despair, terror, and violence experienced around the globe. There’s the myth* that people are starving around the world as a direct result of overpopulation; “the fact is, incomes and other measures of human welfare are rising almost everywhere, including in Africa.” Media can distort our understanding of the world through its reporting and our own constant consumption of it. It’s vital to, however challenging, remain objective. Thought it may not seem like it, we are living in a more peaceful, better educated, greater developed, healthier and wealthier world than all those that came before us. Remain optimistic and ever-vigilant in working towards equality all, I suppose that’s fundamentally what I’m getting at.

I’ll leave you with this:

“By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been. People are living longer, healthier lives. Many nations that were aid recipients are now self-sufficient. You might think that such striking progress would be widely celebrated, but in fact, Melinda and I are struck by how many people think the world is getting worse. The belief that the world can’t solve extreme poverty and disease isn’t just mistaken. It is harmful.”

-Bill Gates

*There are starving people around the globe, no doubt, but those facing extreme hunger are not suffering due to there being too many people on our planet consuming a too small supply of food. That is a common and convenient myth for those in the developed world. The fact is that people are starving due to income inequality, effects of climate change and lack of infrastructure especially in poor countries, and waste (just to name a few). Our supply of food is abundant, in fact,  in America, 30% of the food grown is wasted. We can, most certainly, do better.

Greetings and welcome to Paper Beats Rock

What’s in a name?

Shakespeare’s questioning title remains a value held today; what something actually is matters far more than its label. However, with that said, it’s worth explaining the logic behind this blog’s title.

As is typical for many, the game rock-paper-scissors was a staple of my childhood–an efficient and effective means of decision making and a thoroughly entertaining competitive game of prediction. What has delighted me throughout my personal history of living and working outside of the U.S. is the universality of this simple game. Despite common barriers of communication, everywhere I have visited rock-paper-scissors is well understood. As an educator,  this method of conflict resolution has been especially useful in the classroom: “you both want to write with the single red marker? Rock-paper-scissor for who gets to.” Simple. Efficient. Universal.

What paper beats rock reminds me is that despite our myriad of differences, be it income inequality, gender, race, language, education, etc., people are all simply that, people. We’re all here on this strange planet together and, somehow, we must find a way to make it work. I believe through focusing on the pillars of sustainable development–social inclusion, shared economic well-being , responsible care of our environment, and fair governance –we can, indeed, do better than simply make it work, we can thrive.

Paper Beats Rock is, at its core, a blog intent on sharing observations from my life working and traveling around the world while maintaining a focus on progress–sustainable development– and interesting things I’ve learned (TIL) along the way that have enriched my understanding of our world and may benefit you as well.

Greetings and welcome to Paper Beats Rock.

Stay gold,

Chelsea Marie Hicks