Who's got responsibility? We do! We do!

If you live in Portland and ever venture downtown, chances are good you've run into a Children International person before - they try to get you to donate money to put a kid in a developing country through school and stuff, and if you do then you get letters from your kid and yada ya.

And if you've ever been approached by these people, you might have noticed that they are so much more aggressive than people from Greenpeace and so on - and they all are, so it must be something in their training. It's crazy.

So anyway, I got drawn into a conversation with one of them today and he convinced me to donate some money but anyway, that's not the point.

We were talking about sustainable development and energy (and this blog yeah go me) and education and stuff, and we found that we agreed on a huge thing - we have a big responsibility in this country to be a role-model for other countries. I think we underestimate the effect the idea of the United States has on people in unlucky situations around the world - or, at least, I do. To ironically quote Anchorman, we're kind of a big deal - probably mostly because of pop culture, but still.

There's a lot of things we could do in terms of exporting goodwill - stuff like the Mercy Corps and stuff - but we need to go further. There's a lot of research into things like small-scale solar power/greenhouses to power a small village, and that's the kind of the thing we need to be really interested in. We need to step up and say that the way the West developed was what it was - we made mistakes and we're starting to see consequences from it - but that the world can't afford to see the rest of the world develop the same way.

This touches, tangentially, the kerfuffle regarding the Kyoto Protocol - we're pissed off that China and India are given more leeway in terms of carbon emissions because they're still developing. We're not angry because that hurts the Earth, though; our politicians are angry because they think that would be giving our rivals an economic advantage.

And here's the key. When we declare that we don't want to see the rest of the world follow a Western-style development, because it'd mess up everyone's life (as one can see in China's air quality, by way of example), we also need to make a commitment to worldwide sustainable development.

Because here's the thing - no matter what we do, if the rest of the world does what we've done over the last 200 years in terms of industrialization, then there will be no chance to get to 450 by 2050.

This is pithy, but it's a global problem that has to have a global solution. A major part of that solution is going to be the developed, technological powers looking to help the rest of the world - primarily by helping them develop straight into a sustainable, carbon-neutral society. And we need to do it because it's the right thing to do, not because there's a dividend payment a year down the line, and because our future way of life hangs in the balance.


  1. "There's a lot of research into things like small-scale solar power/greenhouses to power a small village, and that's the kind of the thing we need to be really interested in."

    I disagree. Before people start thinking about technology for villages such as electricity, I think basic needs need to be met such as clean water and health care. These things are what we really should be focusing on. I see where you're coming from, but you're making the assumption that all populations of small villages will someday rise to become cities. By saying that we should focus our efforts on clean energy for villages you're also making the assumption that such villages need electricity and that they are dissatisfied with their lifestyle. Sorry, but I don't think energy is going to solve the water and health care problem so easily.

    Also to "exporting goodwill"... one word: homeless. How many people are sleeping in the snow? How about the people who are being kicked out of their homes because of our economic crisis? Yes, foreign aid is important, but the problems at home should not be forgotten.

  2. To address your first point, the number of people homeless in the United States and in danger of being kicked out of their homes is not even approaching near to the number of people in far worse conditions through-out the world. You can argue that for US policy-makers should be more concerned with their own citizens first, and that's fair - in terms of pure numbers, though, it isn't even close, and I tend to think more towards the numbers game.

    Now, electricity. Do people need clean water and health care? Yes, absolutely. I don't think we should plop down a solar generator in the middle of town and let people develop their own tools.

    But in terms of water, electricity can run small-scale desalinization operators, greenhouses, and pumps. In terms of health care, solar power can provide light, sterilization for surgical tools, and contact with the outside world.

    Electricity is part of the modern world - whether we're talking about a village or a city. One of the recent Nobel Peace Prizes went to a man who pioneered giving people microloans to start businesses and buy village cellphones. I don't assume that villages should become cities, nor do I want them too - but there's no reason that a village should be worse off than a city.

  3. Yes, electricity can provide those things, and I recognize that electricity is important to our society.

    I'm just saying that basics should be covered first. Ones that don't need a lot of money to provide. Water wells, vaccines, etc. It just seems like solar panels are a bit too much compared to other such necessities.

  4. Well sure.

    But it comes back to the original point that I hope I managed to make and maybe didn't. We have a responsibility to continue development of things like solar technology so that it can be useful. And there are great examples of it - like the water cone, a passive solar desalinization device, or a passive solar oven that can sterilize medical instruments. These were developed by Western companies and inventors for use in the developing world.

    Do we have a responsibility to assist the developing world with other essentials? Absolutely. At a certain point we get beyond the scope of this blog, though.