Davos 2019 – Weekend Wandering

This is another in a series of Weekend Wanderings posts with many links to follow. It centres around the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It used to be (and still is, to a large degree) a meeting of the wealthiest, most powerful people in the world in terms of both economics and politics. They would wine and and dine and discuss the world’s future and how best to maintain the smooth running of the global economic engines.

Today, the World Economic Forum is”committed to improving the state of the world” and is somewhat less elitist, inviting the world into the various meetings and plenary sessions through the videos and articles they release. Increasingly, the WEForum has come to include an environmental focus which, thank goodness, has been the underlying theme for the past four years. This year, the focus on the climate crisis has taken on even greater significance, especially in light of the Paris Agreement, COP24 and the IPCC‘s October Report Global Warming of 1.5°C. Essentially, the rich and powerful are finally coming to terms with the fact that something needs to be done about climate change and needs to be done ‘yesterday’.

Greta Thunberg once again spoke plainly in ashamedly direct terms, trying to convince world leaders to get off their duffs and actually do something. She is the rock star the youth of today must rally around and with to send a message to we adults that we have done nothing for too long.

The WEForum also recognized Sir David Attenborough for his contributions to a collective understanding of and appreciation for the natural world in awarding him the Crystal Award. His acceptance speech, now known at the Garden of Eden is no more speech, is excellent reading. Sir David also took part in a timely Q & A with H.R.H. The Duke of Cambridge, where his new series Our Planet (YouTube Trailer here) was introduced – a collaboration with the WWF, Silverback Films and Netflix.

I spent a good part of Saturday afternoon looking through and watching some of the excellent videos produced by the World Economic Forum. Some highlights include:

If you take a moment to scroll down the list of videos, you will also find topics as varied as:

…amongst many, many others. And, to have it all available to watch at your leisure is, well, brilliant. Have a good weekend of exploring.

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An epidemic of food waste – when so many go hungry

A definitive study has been released in Canada that more accurately quantifies the amount of food wasted each year in terms of both avoidable waste and unavoidable waste. In total, almost 58% of Canadian food production is wasted. Of that, 32% is considered avoidable waste which means just shy of $50 billion of ‘usable groceries’ is wasted each year.

The original technical report and road map is from Second Harvest who (according to their website), is “Canada’s largest food rescue charity with a dual mission of environmental protection and hunger relief. We recover nutritious, unsold food before it becomes waste and distribute to a broad network of 373 social service organizations.”

Other food waste-related articles include:

This is why we study history…

Actually, it’s an even better example of why interdisciplinary studies is so essential – a nexus of history, geography, geology, history and chemistry. Perhaps ‘archeaogeochemistry’.

From the World Economic Forum:

Now, Jared Diamond, author of Collapse, may have something to say about it but, either way, this article and its revelations highlight the necessity of teaching history.

I always introduce history to my Grade 7s with, amongst others, the variation on George Santayana‘s quote, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” (The original is “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”)

Sadly, our current society is the product of many failed learnings and memories. But there is still hope…

Plastics, Grocery Stores and Farmers’ Markets – Argggghhh, don’t get me started…

The trigger for this blog post was a recent CBC Marketplace episode about how Canadian grocery stores can reduce or eliminate plastics by adopting the methods and means of a UK grocery store:

We really MUST begin eliminating single-use disposable plastics from our daily routines. If there is one product of the industrial era (besides fossil fuels themselves) that can be targeted to help clean up Earth, it’s plastic. When I look at my family’s ‘garbage’ bin – the stuff that is not compostable nor recyclable – at least 90% is composed of single-use disposable plastic: bread bags, cereal bags, cheese wrappers, milk bags (yes, I’m in Stone Age Ontario!).

There is no escaping it – or is there.

We have all been bombarded with the problem and are continuously reminded we need to do something. Unfortunately, we as individuals, are somewhat limited in our choices to effect real change without having business and industry on-side as well.

With grocery stores having moved almost entirely to plastic-wrapped everything, we are somewhat handcuffed in our choices. Yes, we could shop at farmers markets, but there are limitations there that don’t really make them the best choice from a carbon footprint perspective.

But our grocery stores could be doing a lot more to combat our love affair with plastics, as proven by an Amsterdam store that is moving towards ‘plastic-free’ shopping:

…and a UK store – the one discussed in the CBC Marketplace piece – that has gone (completely?) plastic-free:

However, it is important to note that all is not rosy in the plastic-free zone, as many bio-degradable plastics are not the green alternative they are touted as being:

The trouble is, we need a paradigm shift; we need to change the ways we do things. Some of that change means trading in decades of convenience created by plastics.

So, where do we go from here?

Well, here are a few ideas to get us started and t show us that at least some jurisdictions and corporations are beginning t take their first few ‘baby steps’ towards tackling the global problem of plastics:

More on overtourism…

Excellent CBC article from the Sunday Edition (January 2019)

and the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reports Executive Summary – excellent reading and research doc (12 pages)

From the World Economic Forum, January 2019:

Also…from August 2017

GDP as an indicator, or not

GDP has had its share of ups and downs recently, both in real terms and as an indicator. If economy was the only thing worth measuring, then a case can be made for GDP, but it’s not.

The World Economic Forum takes a good look at this in their article from November:

GDP is no longer an accurate measure of economic progress. Here’s why

You see, GDP does not account for losses in natural capital, the part of nature that keeps us alive and provides numerous and valuable natural benefits.

If, for example, a river becomes polluted by an industry and a city must build infrastructure to clean that water, GDP rises (huh?!?) because more money is being spent in the economy to remedy what was a ‘free’ resource. I know this sounds simplistic, but that’s the way GDP works. So, the economy could be booming in the short term, as measured by GDP, even if the very foundations of the economy are being undermined.

It’s why economists must hate ‘land banks’ like national parks, provincial parks and nature conservancies. They don’t contribute to the economy in a meaningful way. Going for a hike through the forests and mountains only generates GDP for the clothes you wear, the boots on your feet and your daypack. But mow down the trees and build a golf course and ski hills – now you have GDP!

Another example: if a storm ruins a dozen houses, GDP rises because money is being spent in the economy to repair them – hiring tradespeople, purchasing building supplies. Sadly, it’s also why war increases the GDP of countries supplying arms. GDP is blind to all the other losses, provided the economy gains. Sickening, isn’t it?

Read the article linked above as it has a few excellent alternatives, one of which is being developed and used by Statistics Canada, “one of the finest statistical organizations in the world“.

There is also an excellent series of articles about the Future of GDP at the WEForum website: Agenda in Focus: Beyond GDP