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Poverty and Global Priorities – Blog Action Day 2008

UrbanWorkbench tackles many topics related to Civil Engineering, Urban Planning and Sustainability, and as part of Blog Action Day 2008, I’d like to take a step away from the construction and development side of things, and focus on the issues of poverty and the collision of climate change and peak oil. This is just a quick post looking at some of the issues that come to mind as I write.

Financial Failings

In the past week we’ve seen the highs and lows of emotions in the financial sector, from suicidal depression to jubilant optimism, in many cases due to the reality of end of year bonuses or whether there would be a job for them next week. But the reality for most people around the world is that they don’t even know that there is a global financial crisis going on, they are too busy fighting hunger, disease, civil wars, oppression and generally trying to survive. While America throws hundreds of billions, possibly trillions of dollars to rescue a handful of influential but poorly managed financial corporations from screwing up the whole economy, poverty programs receive next to nothing.

Carbon Tax Trap

[ad#200-left]The Province of British Columbia has recently levied a carbon tax in an aim to offset the cost of carbon on the environment.Not all experts agree that spending money on efforts to reach carbon neutral have long term value, and in the book “Cool It”, Bjorn Lomborg describes the global impacts of spending – or not spending the unfathomable amounts required to reduce carbon emissions in an attempt to slow the effects of global warming. He reviews the issues as a series of summations of deaths attributable to a cause – global warming (which will cause more deaths in areas of poverty than in affluent countries), or preventable diseases that currently affect poverty stricken nations. The outcome of his calculations is that attempting to slow global warming does not pay for itself, and a small portion of the money that would be spent – should be allocated to eradicating diseases such as malaria in impoverished nations.

Peak Oil and the Issue of Timing

If we are going to tackle global poverty as an issue in today’s world, we’d better get to it. With Peak Oil breathing down our necks, it is impossible to take the level of transportation we have today for granted. The cost of almost everything on the globe will increase drastically once we are in an energy descent scenario, at that point we will be even more torn between our own national needs and seeing the needs of others around the world. Donations to charities that currently fill many of the gaps in national support will dry up as disposable income (if there ever was such a thing) decreases. Peak Oil is going to have a massive impact even on those who currently don’t appear to rely on oil for the everyday needs, as everything will become an in-demand commodity.

What Can We Do Today?

We live on the edge of a massive transformation in global economics and society. Things are not likely to get easier for most people, but we can assist those currently in poverty while there is still the resources available.

  1. Support overseas efforts. Organizations such as Compassion are designed to support children, giving them and their families food, shelter and schooling. Growing up through the 80s and 90s I was bombarded with images of starving children in Africa. The truth is that they are still starving.
  2. Be part of local efforts. Food banks are getting a workout around North America. Give what you can – there are children and families who literally can’t afford healthy food. It’s not the kids’ fault.
  3. Demand the essentials. Water, Food, Clothing, Medical and Shelter are essential for life, we need to demand that these are provided for all people around the world. At the moment we can’t even provide these essentials adequately in our own countries. This would require a major shift in policy.
  4. Imagine yourself in the same situation. Many impoverished people are not unhappy, just resigned to a life without. Could you be happy without your comforts, gadgets, satellite TV, SUV, iPod, etc? Empathy is a good place to start understanding the realities of poverty

What are you going to do about poverty today?

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.