How to Eat An Elephant

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Given that Professor Munasinghe is a man of many disciplines, it is not surprising that our discussion with him was not bounded by any categories. One interesting theme included in our talks with him is the concept of changing values at the very base of our society. Those values ultimately also determine consumption and consequently myriads of environmental problems on all levels.

Consumption has traditionally been attributed to the atomistic individual but its root is more grounded in societal value. Thorstein Veblen described this concept with the term “conspicuous consumption” by highlighting that a majority of consumption was driven merely by the need to display social standing and power. Such attitude is rather incompatible with the notion of Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) as SCP is geared towards the idea of supplying ones needs and necessities and not wants.

In this train of thought, he speaks highly of how there has been more done on the grass root and city level when it comes to the idea of greening. Mayors of cities are more than happy to green their economy and reduce carbon footprint simply because it is economically feasible and saves greater costs in the longer run. It is much easier to implement on this smaller scale, and given autonomous power, cities can change faster than a country can.

Source: The Online Citizen

Illustrating this scheme, Seattle’s mayor Greg Nickels called on cities across the United States to push forward and honour the Kyoto protocols despite the fact that the Bush Administration refused to sign it. The key here is that mayors have greater incentive to push through with greening (so to speak) because reelection is based on a smaller population’s vote; one who can see clearly and immediately the changes occurring in their immediate vicinity (i.e. their own city).

Governance and its different levels, constitute heavily in policy implementation. Heinz Schandl, who was also on the panel earlier mentions the importance of proper scoping, monitoring and assessment before policy can even be implemented. There seem to be far too many hurdles on a macro-level when it comes to implementing policies directed at SCP.

The issue of governance brings in the question of international co-operation. When it comes to international collaborations in terms of environmental questions the Kyoto protocol is often brought up. More often than not though, it’s the failure of the protocol that is highlighted. The reason proposed for the lack of success is the sheer amount of co-operation required and the problems that do inevitably arise from the inter-communication. Further, there was the issue of free-riders in this collective action problem. Plausible solutions include renegotiating the rules of the game, allowing for greater transparency and creating reputation to increase credibility.

However, if we were to apply Professor Munasinghe’s earlier ideas on pursuing a more ground up framework, it would make sense to tackle such problems on a national level and then further down into state and even city level.

Put simply, if the problem cannot be broken down, perhaps the answer can. Divide and Conquer.

For other insights on Dr Munasinghe’s interview, read Student Reporters’ analyses on the feasibility of changing metrics and whether the human race is capable of changing consumption patterns.

6 thoughts on “How to Eat An Elephant

  1. Great post Akash! To illustrate mayor Nickels’ ambitions, Seattle which is my hometown recently (as of July 2012) banned plastic bags :).

  2. Cheers Sunmin. Always been a fan of Seattle for it’s music scene (or atleast what used to be its music scene) and frasier crane 😀

    so it’s always great to hear of it’s greening.

  3. And many more cities in the world are ready to face the challenges, and do their bit, as also our sustainable cities workshops (in Hyderabad last week, and here in Beijing the day before yesterday) have shown. We plan to highlight the cities and resource efficiency/SCP strategies in the months to come, with a strong presence in Davos WRF 2013 (6-9 October 2013).

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