Tag Archives: sustainable development

Development vs. growth

I’m live-blogging this week from the US-IALE conference in Anchorage Alaska….. a lot of great discussions going on here!

Brian Czech from the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy gave our plenary talk this morning about sustainable natural resource management and ecological economics. He cautioned us to be mindful of the words we use, particularly development vs. growth. Growth implies that an increasing amount of natural resources will be used over time, and the economy will expand. Development, on the other hand, allows for maintaining natural resource use at current levels, but changing how we use them (e.g., more efficiently and effectively).

Just an hour later, a presenter discussed how the Bureau of Land Management sets and works towards landscape management goals for the Prudhoe Bay area, including “sustainable economic development of natural resources”, however it became clear that BLM is really referring to “sustainable economic growth”. Brian was on-hand to point out the vast policy implications of this terminology choice; a very instructive lesson!


Environmental Justice Gets a Makeover: How the field of Ecological Economics has changed the way we think about EJ

[This is a post from Ronesha Strozier, a MS student in the Environmental and Energy Policy program here at Tech. This was an assignment for our Ecological Economics course.]

Environmental justice seems like it would be an important part of any hot, environmentally related, conversation; but for some reason over the years it has disappeared from the rhetoric. When I joined the Environmental & Energy Policy program at Michigan Tech I was flabbergasted when I didn’t hear these words thrown around more often, but I had been deceived; it was there all along.

My grandmother always used to tell me that there is nothing new under the sun and she is right. Ideas are always being recycled and mixed together to make what we call new ideas and this same theory can be applied to the field of environmental justice.  So I finally figured out why no one was using the term; it was because the name changed. Due to globalization and time, environmental justice has now become just distribution.

Just distribution is one of the three main goals of a new field of economics called ecological economics. Environmental justice tends to focus on the more social, political, and legal aspects of a particular problem primarily within the United States. Just distribution takes the whole argument a step further by incorporating our now globalized world. It focuses on providing the same resources to every citizen in the world and has added ideas from ecology and economics to help create better solutions for today’s problems.

Once I knew the new name of environmental justice I breathed a nice long relaxing sigh; I knew that I no longer had to worry if my fellow colleagues cared about environmental justice, because they did. My colleagues care so much that they have allowed the terminology to evolve into something that will help them better solve the problem.

Since the name changed I wanted to see if there were any other changes to the field. I searched and found some differences within the terminology.  “Just distribution” seems to be primarily used by academics, but “environmental justice” has successfully made it past the walls of academia and is widely used by the public.  Environmental justice representatives are talking about the same things that academics are talking about. For example, Dr.  Jalonne L. White-Newsome discusses climate change in a post on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Blog. In the post the author strongly pushes for the President to include issues related to environmental justice in the President’s Climate Action Plan. White-Newsome issues a call to action to make the importance of climate justice a reality in the American political system.

Although environmental justice is changing I don’t think that it is a bad thing, it’s just different. The field is changing to meet the needs of our current society and that is what all environmentalists want. We want change.


Sustainable development of the manufacturing industry: casting and forging

This is a guest blog post from Minglei Guan, one of my students in the “Sustainability Science, Policy and Assessment” course this spring:

Sustainability is an important development goal for humanity in modern society. Manufacturing is a central feature of many economic development pathways, and in this sense casting and forging are therefore a necessary focus for sustainable development strategies. Casting (pouring hot metal into a mold) and forging (pressing metal into a certain shape) are two ways that all metal tools and products are made.

The economic issues for the casting and forging manufacturing industry can be summarized as low profit margins with high cost of capital, and market volatility. Low profit margins are common for small manufacturers when they lack an ability to improve their production processes, training and equipment. This issue can result in bankruptcy for small manufacturers, which then negatively impacts society through the loss of jobs. Economic support from government and industrial organizations can help alleviate this issue. For the second issue, the high cost of capital, is mainly driven by the cost of raw materials, labor, and energy. For the casting and forging manufacturing industry, the cost of materials is the most important. Efforts such as waste reduction and improved production methods are good ways to solve the issue, using approaches such as production life cycle improvement and TNS zero waste strategy.  Finally, the market volatility needs to be dependent upon local market requirements.

The casing and forging industries also have a large impact on the environmental dimension of sustainable development. High energy usage, materials resources waste and environmental damage are common to the casting and forging manufacturing industry.  High energy usage and materials resources waste are both resource issues; production life cycle improvement and TNS zero waste approaches can also be used to solve them. Emissions are also a serious problem for the industry. New technologies such as the “CRIMSON” model can be used to reduce emissions from the sand casting process. However, typically either new laws or environmental decrees are needed to limit greenhouse gas and smoke emissions or to filter them before they are released.

Finally, from social dimension, the industry has significant social impacts such as those related to labor costs and environmental damage as it impacts human health. To solve social, environmental and economic issues for the casting and forging manufacturing industry, one needs to considered relationships among these three views. Balanced development for society, the environment and the economy can push the manufacturing industry towards sustainability.


Hands-on Learning

I just came across an interesting post in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Scott Carlson regarding the need/desire for college students to learn life skills and trades in addition to more abstract or technical knowledge. A few colleges are already requiring their students to learn wood-working, machining, farming, and other skills, and from this article (and my own experience) it seems that students might really need to learn the basics as well (cooking and cleaning).

I would whole-heartedly agree with this shift. Back when I used to teach a first year Perspectives class (“Developing a Sustainability Mindset”), one of the assignments required the students to organize a potluck with their friends, and write about where the food came from (that is, what country or region, to estimate food miles), where the recipe originated, and the story behind the choices of dishes that the students made. In many cases, the lack of cooking knowledge overwhelmed the assignment, as many students were steaming rice or cooking pasta for the first time. That was certainly a shock to me, and represents a pretty profound shift in just one generation in American culture. I don’t remember a single friend of mine in college (male or female) who couldn’t master at least the “boil only” foods, and pop popcorn and cook cookies as well.

Many of the “Transition Town” and other relocalization movements rely on a wealth of DIY knowledge in their communities, but this assumption may need to be checked. If younger citizens do not know how to establish a garden or produce staples like clothing and cookware (not to mention build and maintain equipment), the transition to more localized production systems and economies might be made significantly more difficult.

Clearly we all have some educating to do!


Sacrifice Zones

Journalist Chris Hedges recently appeared on “Moyers & Company”, and was interviewed by Bill Moyers about the “sacrifice zones” across the United States where economic, social, and environmental injustice combine to destroy local communities. These are excellent examples of why all three dimensions must be analyzed simultaneously to understand sustainability, and to design effective sustainable development strategies.

See the full interview here.