We *Should* Read the Back of the Brownie Box

Just by coincidence, I learned about how “controversy swirls around harsh anti-obesity ads” in Georgia, part of a five-year, $25 million anti-obesity effort and hosted at strong4life.com. Then I read about a consultant explaining to board members of the Natural Resources Defense Council being told: “Environmentalists were always yammering to consumers about the back of the box. And, guess what? Nobody wants to listen.”

We better start reading the back of the brownie box to deal with obesity…and the back of energy bills, land lease agreements, environmental regulation and other fine print so we can begin to figure out how we get by in a world of limited resources. The NYT article, Environmentalists Get Down to Earth, gets me re-engaged. But what if the consultant is right and we don’t want to listen to the truth about complex problems that are too hard to solve today and are not the priority for the short-term?

The solution presented in the article are bite-size and fit on the front of the box:

  • Fight global warming by focusing on immediate, local concerns;
  • Reinvigorate the grass roots through social media and street protests; and
  • Renew an emphasis on influencing elections.

Those don’t do it for me. First, if everyone goes local, nobody is thinking about the bigger picture. Issues about sustainability are not going to fit into small manageable boxes with tags about “economy and jobs”, “environmental protection” and “energy security”. This is very apparent in another NYT article on the boom impacts of a New York county benefitting from gas drilling in neighboring Pennsylvania. And one NYT editor actually highlighted the paper’s own inability to see the “big picture” of shale gas as one of the key issues requiring more effort on the part of the paper itself.

Social media has some strengths and weaknesses. Attracting new interest is great, but if we make our political choices as easily as we can “like” a new cause that we know little or nothing about, we won’t be having any serious debate soon. It takes more back-of-the-box reading.

A renewed emphasis on elections seems right, if not glaringly obvious with the upcoming US election, but this renewed emphasis has to be through informed debate. Since starting to work in sustainability, I have become very sensitive to the half-truth and only telling part of the story. I can only hope people will demand more.

I liked the Georgia campaign and think it serves as a good example for other groups. I thought the commercials were direct and made an impression. But they don’t seem to tell me what to think. I obviously need to look further. I wish more commercials about the environment (from anti- and pro- sides) pulled me to their sites where I could see the headings “learn”, “ask” and “get started”, rather than bashing me over the head with the obvious answer.

Posted in Climatechange, Publicparticipation, Sustainability, USA

Oil vs. Wind vs. Pipelines vs. Solar, etc.

Op-Ed in the NYT“A Shortsighted Victory in Delaying the Keystone Pipeline” – outlines some of the tough trade-offs that will be forced upon decision-makers thinking about energy. Who decides? Intuitively, one would say “democratically elected government”, but federal, state or local? The Keystone Pipeline and the bubbling conversation around shale gas and hydraulic fracturing (featured in the Times magazine last week) are bringing these debates to a head. Obama may have postponed the debate by delaying the decisions, but, as the Op-Ed makes clear, the decision won’t be delayed forever.

To be certain, energy policy cannot and should not disregard local opinion and opposition. Those who are affected most by energy development deserve a special role in shaping its course. But that should not be taken to an extreme that makes effective national energy policy impossible.

I guess that is unarguable, but trust there will be plenty of opinions on how people define “extreme”.

Posted in Climatechange, Publicparticipation, SEIA, Sustainability, USA

Externalities of Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act?

The title, “How Congress Devastated Congo”, is a bit much, but this OpEd gives pause to all of us thinking that human rights in mining is a black or white issue. It is true:

It’s easier to sidestep Congo than to sort out the complexities of Congolese politics — especially when minerals are readily available from other, safer countries.

That tells me there needs to be more stakeholders than mining companies and advocacy groups shaping the policy responses to challenges like minerals in Eastern Congo.

Posted in Artisanalmining, Conflict, Corporateresponsibility, DRC, Humanrights, Livelihoods, NGOs, Publicparticipation, Transparency


The New Yorker, 04 July 2011

Posted in Amused

Cash For Everyone

How Africa can extract big benefits for everyone from natural resources – cash transfers, so the Guardian post says. I am a bit skeptical that this would provide any quick fixes either for poverty alleviation or reducing corruption, and sparsely populated Alaska may not be a great example to follow. But certainly any idea to distribute benefits more equitably is good for the debate on how to use natural resources around the world.

Via DFID blogger Hannah Ryder, found that the evidence from its Cash Transfers Evidence Paper still needs a bit more research. But some interesting trends. The executive summary includes the following current priorities for data and analysis on cash transfers that:

  • identifies the challenges and opportunities associated with different contexts and intended beneficiary groups;
  • supports cost-benefit analysis that enables policy-makers to make more informed comparisons between cash transfer design options (and with investments in other sectors);
  • deepens understanding of the political economy of cash transfers;
  • tracks whether and under what circumstances transfer delivery supports access to and use of financial services;
  • goes beyond specific transfer programmes to support the design and evolution of integrated social protection systems, linking cash transfers with policies for service delivery, accountability and labour-intensive growth;
  • integrates cash transfers and other instruments (e.g. insurance) within multi- sectoral strategies to enhance resilience to climate variability.

(This is a good tag to look back at previous thoughts on “natural resources” and “development” in the Guardian blog.)

Posted in Cashtransfers, Communitydevelopment, Sustainability, Transparency

TEDx Brussels 2010 – Paul Collier

Here’s the punchline of the talk:

“There is no substitute for building a critical mass of informed citizens within each of the societies that have these valuable resources and are currently poor.”

TEDx Brussels 2010 – Paul Collier – How the Bottom Billion can harness the Resource Boom?

And more from the Natural Resource Charter website.

Posted in Publicparticipation, Sustainability, Transparency

Eco-Terrorism? Not Quite…

This article – Eco-Warriors Call Attention to Economic Development Dilemma – is a good for highlighting the need for engagement. Mechanisms for communication are needed to resolve conflicts that are certainly bound to continue simply because industrialized mining is so new.

“This will increase and escalate, if there is no mechanism for participation and no mechanism to resolve conflict,” Guenduez said, adding that frequently changing laws, “myths about mining,” and lack of informed decision making in Mongolia leave both mining companies and the public frustrated.

Posted in Uncategorized

CommDev (and In-Flux)

A missed gem on my Resources list. I came across CommDev again when I found this relatively new (slow blogging plagues me)  resource on the massive challenge of in-migration and in-flux on major projects: A Handbook for Addressing Project-Induced In-Migration. A little planning goes a long way. It is still in draft form so I am sure comments will be welcome before a final draft.

Posted in Communitydevelopment, Corporateresponsibility, HIV/AIDS, Humanrights, Migration, Publicparticipation, Sustainability

Las Bambas Independent Advisory Group

Researching some sustainability reports this week, I learned about an Xstrata initiative in Peru to create an Independent Advisory Group on the Las Bambas mine. I can’t comment on the performance from my London-desk, but given the recent turmoil in Peru, it was good to see a company working hard to set up a more accountable system.

I have seen (and helped set up) community consultation committees, but this really is the next step up. I especially appreciate the explicit discussion of how new people can apply and the practical arrangements. Community oversight always seems like an obvious idea, but there are always lurking issues, conflicts of interest and hidden agendas. Being explicit about assumptions and reporting (here is the report on activities from 2005-2007) is the only way to deal with those issues.

A challenge in thinking this through, however, is how smaller companies might apply some of the principles to set up similar initiatives when there are not as many resources to spend on such a group. I also wonder if the participants and the initiators feel like it is the most effective use of time and money.

Posted in Corporateresponsibility, Peru, Publicparticipation

Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009

Metals derived from inhumanely mined minerals go into electronic products used by millions of Americans. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, many people – especially women and children – are victimized by armed groups who are trying to make a profit from mining ‘conflict minerals.’ The legislation introduced today brings accountability and transparency to the supply chain of minerals used in the manufacturing of many electronic devices. I hope the legislation will help save lives.

So stated US Senator Sam Brownback.

Here’s an NGO opinion on the issue.

Efforts for transparency are needed, but I have wondered whether legislation in one country is enough to deal with such a complex issue. Doesn’t something like this need industry buy-in on top of nation led initiatives?

Posted in Conflict, Corporateresponsibility, DRC, Humanrights, Transparency