Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Project52 on... How to Change the world

During my hiatus from Project52 a year, I've been studying 'How to change the world' in association with Coursera and Wesleyan University.

As part of that course I did pop quizzes but also had to write several short essays on the subject. Here are two highlights from that writing. Due to the nature of the course, copyright terms etc I cannot reveal the full essay questions posed, so these are shortened.

 Imagine that you have been put in charge of allocating a considerable amount of resources to address extreme poverty in one region of the world

Deciding how to use aid resources to address extreme poverty, there are three questions that must be addressed. These are:

1. What methods are best to target the three Key points in improving the lives of those in extreme poverty; education, health, economic growth?
  • Look at recent history: what past actions could be improved? Looking at sub-Saharan Africa, with the highest level of extreme poverty globally at 48.5%. The land is dry, largely suffers from drought, with little food, education or health care for it's population.
  • Refering to the Millennium Village Project, as documented by Jeffrey Sachs in his book, Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet. Money was split up and used for: malaria treatment and prevention, free school meals, medicines, fertilisers, tools and seeds for agriculture. This met the three key points above, meals will help students focus on education whilst giving them a positive incentive for attendance. Malaria treatment and prevention, such as the use of treated bed nets will help keep people healthy so they can provide for their families. Finally, the use of seeds and fertilisers, especially heirloom seeds which can be kept after the harvest, and traded or replanted the following season, will ensure that farmers can grow not only what they need for family, extra produce could be sold or traded at markets, leading to an economy for the community.
  • Sanitation, especially that which can be built and maintained by anyone is a necessity.
  • Ask the people what they want to come out of the aid. This will help educate those involved at every step and to promote inclusion with decision making.
2. How to make sure that any aid or resources given will not be squandered or lead to social unrest?
  • Place conditions on the aid, with penalties if these are broken. This way more aid will get through without any "skimming off the top" at a government level.
  • RCTs: Randomised Controlled Trials, as favoured by Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo in Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, RCTs used included self-selection to determine who the most poor in an area were, how people would use malaria nets if they were given them for free, charged full price or at a subsidised price, for example. Using the model of RCTs, tests would be done to determine which villages would be willing to support others once they had their own improvements under way, and who would sabotage efforts using violence, e.g. the slaughter of livestock or the contamination of bore holes. Once results were studied, it could then be determined which villages would make the best candidates.
  • What Works in Development? Thinking Big and Thinking Small by J. Cohen & W. Easterly, the authors discuss malaria nets being used for wedding veils, for catching and drying fish. Is this misuse due to lack of education or mistrust? Education about prevention taught to women (mothers) solves this as it is them who will implement the nets at home.
3. How to make sure that those supported by the aid resources will continue to survive once the aid stops?
  • Education,
  • Economic growth
  • Easily maintained sanitation
 Education will ensure people learn how to take care of themselves with sanitation (hygiene) and medicine. Farmers' crops can be continued for the future using hardier plants with heirloom seeds, for market trading (economic growth) Make it easy for people to educate others, include women and younger people in all key decision making as they will be the ones to maintain developments to encourage equality within the community aided by the resources discussed.
Find ways to assess and then reduce your carbon footprint

Topic 1 >assessing and reducing carbon footprint

As I already have a personal interest in recycling, it seemed a logical next step to take would be to look at my own carbon footprint and that of a few friends in the UK and USA for comparison.

Starting with the two suggested sites, and, I found handprinter to be a poor measure as it did not allow for location or lifestyle of the person filling in the calculator. I found it hard to use as I recycle, switch off lights when I leave a room, and consume local produce. These are all things that contribute to having a lower carbon footprint but Handprinter does not consider these. Joulebug is a tool for habit formation encouraging reductions of carbon production and did  not appear to be useful for calculating actual usage. Joulebug would be more beneficial after looking at footprints and identifying where change is needed.

I chose to use Carbon's calculator ( As it gave more accurate results, allowed for the cost of energy rather than units used, for lifestyle information such as transit used and diet. This was simple to use and gave a wider range of results so that people could see how they were doing compared to others in their country and where they may be able to make a sustainable change.

Table of results:  NB All figures are in metric tonnes of CO2e

nameHouseFlightsCarMotorbikeBus & RailSecondarytotalcountry / average
myself0.1200002.522.64UK 9.80
Ms A3.532.202.07005.3113.11USA 20.40
Ms H.Z.0.430.679.76005.9616.41USA 20.40
Ms V.L.D0.3604.73002.717.79USA 20.40
Ms C0.134.490002.667.28UK 9.80
Mr A0.1203.0600.012.575.75UK 9.80
All who took part are all lower than their countries average, and on discussion, all had a 'give myself a pat on the back' mentality when shown their results, so how to encourage reduction and make people care? 

As noted by many academics, people often have a 'not in my backyard' attitude; they will not do anything until the crisis affects them directly. In an interview with E. Kolbert, [A Reporter's Field Notes on the Coverage of Climate change] she recalls John McCain saying "It’s very unclear whether our political system can deal with a problem like this because usually we wait for a crisis and then we deal with the crisis, and that’s just not the way climate change works. You can’t deal with it once the crisis hits."  Looking at other sources by E. Kolbert, such as her report on 'In Galapagos, An Insidious threat to Darwin's Finches' It is clear that even some scientists will wait until an issue has become a problem before they try to solve it, rather than monitoring situations and taking preemptive action against any changes.
In 'Climate Stabilization Targets' report by the National Research Council (USA) it is clear making change now would be better late than never. Change, unless it happens now will be fruitless as it will take years for the carbon to offset on its own naturally once we stop adding to it. This is where Joulebug would become beneficial. Joulebug gives examples of how people can make a smaller footprint, such as sharing showers and using compostors for food waste. Initiatives such as Joulebug will help encourage change today to bring down all CO2e levels before it is too late.


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