Thursday, February 5, 2009

Access to water and sanitation is the largest driver of human development

Here's a BBC article I received today.  It confirms what I've been told by public health experts studying Haiti and others: access to water and sanitation is the largest driver of human development.  Its the key to jump-starting the whole development process.  That makes it far too important to leave in the hands of those who seek to profit from water.

Water - another global 'crisis'?
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website BBC link

If you look at the numbers, it is hard to see how many East African communities made it through the long drought of 2005 and 2006.  Among people who study human development, it is a widely-held view that each person needs about 20 litres of water each day for the basics - to drink, cook and wash sufficiently to avoid disease transmission.  Yet at the height of the East African drought, people were getting by on less than five litres a day - in some cases, less than one litre a day, enough for just three glasses of drinking water and nothing left over.  Some people, perhaps incredibly from a western vantage point, are hardy enough to survive in these conditions; but it is not a recipe for a society that is healthy and developing enough to break out of poverty.

"Obviously there are many drivers of human development," says the UN's Andrew Hudson.  "But water is the most important."

At the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), where Dr Hudson works as principal technical advisor to the water governance programme, he calculated the contribution that various factors make to the Human Development Index, a measure of how societies are doing socially and economically. 
"It was striking. I looked at access to energy, spending on health, spending on education - and by far the strongest driver of the HDI on a global scale was access to water and sanitation." 

Different lives

Two key questions arise, then.  Why do some communities have so little access to water? And how will the current picture change in a world where the human population is growing, where societies are urbanising and industrialising, and where climate change may alter the raw availability of water significantly?

The UNDP is unequivocal about the first question.  "The availability of water is a concern for some countries," says the report.  "But the scarcity at the heart of the global water crisis is rooted in power, poverty and inequality, not in physical availability."

Statistics on water consumption appear to back the UN's case.  Japan and Cambodia experience about the same average rainfall - about 160cm per year.  But whereas the average Japanese person can use nearly 400 litres per day, the average Cambodian must make do with about one-tenth of that.

The picture is improving to some extent.  Across the world, 1.6bn more people have access to clean drinking water than in 1990.  But population growth and climatic changes could change the picture.  In some regions, "the scarcity at the heart of the global water crisis" could become one of physical availability, especially in places where consumption is already unsustainably high.  "There are several rivers that don't reach the sea any more," says Mark Smith, head of the water programme at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  "The Yellow River is one, the Murray-Darling (in Australia) is nearly another - they have to dredge the mouth of the river every year to make sure it doesn't dry up.  "The Aral Sea and Lake Chad have shrunk because the rivers that feed them have been largely dried out; and you can see it on a smaller scale as well, where streams that are important for small communities in Tanzania may go dry for half the year, largely because people are taking more and more water for irrigating crops."

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February 5, 2009 in Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Global water scarcity: the blue gold rush....

Frank Rijsberman, Program Director at and formerly Director General of the International Water Management Institute, investigates the global water scarcity problem in an essay published on Boston Review. Global water scarcity  A rapidly growing population means that we need rethink the world's water resources –  both use and distribution. Rijsberman analyzes causes for the impending crisis, and addresses possible solutions, which he believes must include both technological and political innovation. The problems are serious, but Rijsberman remains optimistic: "We can avoid a full-blown global disaster. Unfortunately, the water crisis is complicated, often misunderstood, rarely grasped holistically, accelerated by climate change that melts glaciers and icecaps, and exacerbated by biofuel expansion that further stresses scarce water supplies. Forestalling it will require a mix of sustained technological innovation and institutional reform, all guided by deeper understanding and some new thinking."

February 5, 2009 in Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

New 6th Circuit Rapanos decision

A frequent reader who practices in the Sixth Circuit saw this 6th Circuit application of the Rapanos case and passed some comments along:

U.S. v. Cundiff
Cundiff decision 

The Court (Judges Martin, McKeague, and a District Judge Collier, with Martin writing for a unanimous panel (that lineup and the unanimity is interesting alone to me and I would guess other Sixth watchers)) held that, under Rapanos, the government had jurisdiction over the defendant's wetlands in Kentucky. The Court discussed the Marks-Rapanos problem at length (some fascinating discussion, along with a sharp rebuke of the Pacific Legal Foundation's view that the plurality test controls in a footnote), but did not make a final decision because it decided that jurisdiction was proper under both the plurality and Kennedy tests. The application of the plurality and Kennedy tests was also lengthy and interesting.

Also interesting was this footnote, describing the status of the property in Muhlenberg County, KY. (If you've ever been there, this is pretty accurate.)

"1 Singer-songwriter John Prine has colorfully recounted Muhlenberg County’s sordid ecological history: 

"And daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County / Down by the Green River where Paradise lay / Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking / Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away . . . . / Then the coal company came with the world’s largest shovel / And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land / Well, they dug for their coal ‘til the land was forsaken / Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man . . . .

"JOHN PRINE, Paradise, on JOHN PRINE (Atlantic Records 1971)."

Thanks again -- I grew up singing to Paradise.

February 5, 2009 in Cases, Law, Mining, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Red Queens or Court Jesters: How Species Evolve

A review in this month's science by Michael Benton discusses two prominent models of evolution.Science article  The abstract and some snippets of the article are below:

Evolution may be dominated by biotic factors, as in the Red Queen model, or abiotic factors, as in the Court Jester model, or a mixture of both. The two models appear to operate predominantly over different geographic and temporal scales: Competition, predation, and other biotic factors shape ecosystems locally and over short time spans, but extrinsic factors such as climate and oceanographic and tectonic events shape larger-scale patterns regionally and globally, and through thousands and millions of years. Paleobiological studies suggest that species diversity is driven largely by abiotic factors such as climate, landscape, or food supply, and comparative phylogenetic approaches offer new insights into clade dynamics. 

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February 5, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Energy, North America, Physical Science, South America | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

We all expected this....

There is talk in the Oregon legislature of eliminating or streamlining environmental impact assessment/environmental permit requirements on projects related to the Oregon stimulus package.  When will they ever learn?  When will they ever learn?

February 5, 2009 in Environmental Assessment | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

What Levels of Warming Might Be Safe?

Here's Worldwatch Institute's cut at the necessary emissions reduction.  Remember Hansen says we need to go carbon negative and reduce GHG levels to 350 ppm.


Despite nearly 20 years of international attention, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise rapidly. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, in particular, has increased faster during the last 10 years than at any time since continuous measurements began in 1960. These emissions trends, if continued, can be expected to raise Earth's temperature by 4 to 6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.


Research suggests that reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2050 will not eliminate all serious risks and damages. So what do we need to do to get to a "safe landing" for the climate? Read Bill Hare's chapter, "A Safe Landing for the Climate," in State of the World 2009: Into a Warming World to find out.


Download: "A Safe Landing for the Climate" (State of the World 2009, Chapter 2)
                    Watch: 13th Annual State of the World Symposium featuring Bill Hare
State of the World 2009



February 5, 2009 in Climate Change | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Chartering Sustainable Transnational Corporations

This link connects to a paper I just posted on SSRN.  I presented the paper at the 6th Colloquium of the IUCN International Academy of Environmental Law in Mexico City in November 2008.  I am submitting a short version of the paper for possible publication in a book incorporating papers presented at the conference on the theme of Alleviating Poverty and Environmental Protection.  And I am preparing a more complete and elaborate version for possible law review publication.  I would deeply appreciate your comments on the subject of how we ensure that transnational corporations act in a sustainable manner and the obstacles or concerns with the approach I suggest.  SSRN link

Using a recent innovative Oregon sustainable corporation law as a springboard, this article argues for requiring all transnational corporations to be chartered as sustainable corporations. Given the far-reaching effects of their operations and their uniquely powerful role, the global wealth that has been accumulated in these organizations must be fundamentally redirected toward creating a sustainable world. As a privilege of doing transnational business, transnational corporations should be required to incorporate environmental and social responsibility into their corporate charters-the document that sets forth the prime mission of the corporation and its directors, essentially baking sustainability into the corporate DNA of transnational corporations.

To be both effective and to harness the entrepreneurial creativity of these organizations, the sustainable corporation charter must be implemented per provisions that require transnational corporations to develop corporate sustainability strategies in accordance with the guidance provided by the implementing provisions. The implementing provisions should also require that the transnational corporations monitor and report in a standardized manner compliance with the corporate sustainability strategy, with sustainability-related laws, and with nonbinding environmental, labor, human rights, corruption, and other sustainability-related standards.

The sustainable corporation charter requirement should be imposed as a matter of international law, through an international convention and administered by an international commission. The requirements should be directly applicable to transnational corporations as a condition of doing transnational business. The commission should be authorized to take enforcement action directly against the corporation. In addition, both home and host nations to transnational corporations should agree to compel the corporations - either incorporated in that nation or doing business in that nation-to comply with the sustainable corporation charter requirement as a condition of doing any business. Nations that fail to join the international convention, or that fail to enforce the international convention, should be subject to mandatory trade and other economic sanctions by all signatories to the international agreement.

We can no longer allow transnational corporations to aggregate the bulk of societal wealth and then operate in an environmentally and socially irresponsible manner. The proposals in this article are one step toward turning transnational corporations into sustainable corporations.

Keywords: transnational corporations, corporate charters, multi-national corporations, sustainability, environmental, international convention, environmental assessment, voluntary compliance, environmental standards, alien tort, corporate social responsibility, human rights, international law, enforcement

February 1, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

The Credit Picture's Still Grim

Creditcrisis_indicatorsA picture is worth a thousand words.  Here are charts from the New York Times Economix Blog, circulated by Visualizing economics, showing five indicators of the dimensions of the credit crisis that began last year.  Certainly some of the measures are improving due to the actions of the Federal Reserve in reducing the cost of money to banks.  Others look pretty grim still -- the decline in the T bill rates, which reflects flight from stocks, bonds, and money market account, and the enormous difference between the T bill rate and the rate charged between banks for short-term money, which reflects distrust and stress in the financial markets.  Remember: all of these measures at the beginning of the year were worse than usual, so the dramatic changes in the 4th quarter of last year were even more dramatic given a longer-term perspective.  I'm looking forward to the end of the year -- and hoping that all of this looks much better -- and that AMEX will restore me to having no ceiling on the amount that I put on my green card (yes, I still have a green card -- they've tried to seduce me with platinum, gold, silver, blue and every other color -- but I like the card that gets paid off at the end of the month).

February 1, 2009 in Economics | Permalink | TrackBack (0)