“Well, you could say, ‘We tried [to solve this problem] and we failed.’ But the real message should be we have not tried nearly hard enough. We have to think of change not in technical terms, but in the way of how we live…there may be consequences down the line that are very, very hard to deal with and as difficult as it is now [to address these problems and change] that seems the lesser challenge compared to when things really get out of hand.”- Michael Renner, “Vital Signs” project director
On this Friday, July 26th edition of A Public Affair, host Esty Dinur conducted her yearly check-in with Michael Renner, senior research fellow at the World Watch Institute, on the organization’s latest Vital Signs volume. In the words of World Watch, “From meat consumption to automobile production to hydropower, Vital Signs, Volume 20 documents over two dozen trends that are shaping our future in concise analyses and clear tables and graphs. The twentieth volume of the Worldwatch Institute series demonstrates that while remarkable progress has been made over the past year, much remains to be done to get the planet on a more sustainable track.” Renner explained the highlights of this year’s volume – the issues, the conundrums, the innovative solutions and finally the positive trends.
Climate change, water shortages and a population boom continue to threaten the Earth. More frighteningly, though aware of this, governments focus on popularity and continue policies such as subsidies (for example the 775 billion in fossil fuel subsidies last year) which cause disconnect between market value and true value of resources such as coal and water. Other times decisions are made because of special interests – such as Wisconsin’s administration turning down money to build a light rail in favor of road expansion. Our politics are politics of the moment and not the long term.
In light of this, Renner and Vital Signs try to promote change by thinking outside of the box. For example, Renner explained, the best way to address population growth is often the empowerment of women, who, when given a choice and means, often prefer smaller families. Another original solution he described is motivating people to support public transportation not only because it cuts emissions, but also because it saves time that one would otherwise spend sitting in traffic.
In addition, every year, positive trends occur. Across the world in the last year, there were improvements in sanitation, a rise of cooperatives and organic agriculture and the founding of a new form of business called a benefit corporation. These are not the stories that garner the most attention, sadly, as they provide a sense of hope and inspiration. When looking at these victories, it is easier to imagine tackling the problems still to come.
You can also find featured trends of Vital Signs online.