service

Earth's Vital Signs

Pattern ID: 
620
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
26
Jenny Frankel-Reed
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Society’'s great scientific capacity to measure and interpret the world and the role of humans in nature has failed to translate into improved environmental stewardship. Modern environmental challenges are often difficult to see, distant in time and space from their sources, and threaten global consequences. The increasing complexity and chronic rather than acute nature of today's environmental problems requires a revolution of decision making — the systematic integration of earth’s vital signs.

Context: 

Signals detected by scientists about earth's natural patterns and processes and the impacts of humans on these processes are earth's signs - indicators of what can be seen as either ecological health or the capacity of the earth to accommodate human demands. The conditions of earth's systems tend to be worsening on a global scale, but vary dramatically from place to place. Human decisions about how to live on earth drive these trends and can potentially reverse their negative directions.

Policymakers, public interest organizations, universities, and governments can utilize earth's signs to better manage human and environmental well-being. Policymakers' decisions about sustainable practices in land- and resource-dependent sectors can be backed by scientific understanding about the effects of policies on resources. Citizens can demand better environmental stewardship from their leaders at local to global scales with improved access to and translation of relevant earth information at the proper scale. Governments and enforcement bodies can strengthen their monitoring capabilities and base development decisions on the latest information about trends in human impacts on earth.

Discussion: 

Three distinct approaches to integrating earth's vital signs come from the scientific community, public interest organizations, and enforcement bodies.

Scientific institutions can collaborate to reach audiences in need of earth-related information to solve problems. The work of earth observation agencies to collect and disseminate data and images to important users like humanitarian aid agencies provides one example. Disaster prevention, response, and rebuilding are information-intensive. This fact is illustrated time and time again in the wake of natural disasters. For example, in Asia in 2005, an immediate need emerged in tsunami-affected areas for earth observation and environmental data to help in assessing damage, reaching victims and rebuilding resilient communities. In response to this need, an alliance of European and International organizations is working with the humanitarian community to improve access to maps, satellite imagery and geographic information (The CGIAR-CSI Data Sharing Platform). This kind of effort by the scientific community to ensure that information actually comes back 'down to earth' opens a host of possibilities for more sustainable decisionmaking if scientists in other fields can repeat it. Scientists from communities researching water, pollution and future risks from global warming could create similar initiatives to ensure the information that they gather becomes integrated in decisionmaking in water-scarce areas, in clean water and air policies, and for promoting climate change adaptation in development strategies, to name a few.

Another way earth’s signs are integrated into decisionmaking is by concerned public interest groups and universities gathering, translating and communicating trends that reflect environmental sustainability to motivate improved environmental governance. The outcomes of resource and land management policies such as energy, fisheries, forests, water, urban planning and rural development can be extrapolated from existing environmental data. A key challenge however, is translating scientific information to connect to the public and policymakers. In examples from around the world, organizations locate data reflecting the condition of impacted resources, create indicators of stewardship or sustainability from these data, and translate their findings into insightful measurements, models and maps that are publicly available and understandable to broader audiences. Clarifying the connections between political and business decisions and environmental outcomes can promote environmentally sustainable decisions and reverse negative trends if decisionmakers are held accountable to these indicators. Scorecards of environmental performance (Environmental Performance Index), policy-wise ecological assessments (Hudson River Foundation), and regional indicators and indices of sustainability (Cascadia Scorecard) have the potential to become a systematic part of policymaking if leaders are held accountable for their performance on these measures of earth's vital signs. Currently, information is not available at the right scales and frequently enough for such assessments to be carried in every context, but an increase in reporting has been proven to stimulate better information gathering.

Earth monitoring information has also been used by enforcement agencies, environmental organizations, and governments to improve accountability for the environmental impacts of business practices. Satellite imagery and other sources of management practices can be used to monitor natural resources on public lands, in protected areas, human settlements, etc. One example comes from an initiative in Central Africa’s Congo Basin, an important wood products exporting region to Europe (Global Forest Watch). European procurement standards are the highest in the world, and buyers often demand legally and sustainably harvested wood from their suppliers. A system to monitor the legality and sustainability of forestry operations has emerged that utilizes satellite imagery, tracking whether harvested areas conform to legally-agreed boundaries and harvest rates. By making the findings publicly accessible, consumers use the information in procurement decisions and market pressure can promote better management by companies. Similar innovative applications of earth information can capitalize on market forces and encourage sustainable resource management if public concern is tangible.

Solution: 

Integrating earth's signs throughout decisionmaking requires that environmental information is widely available, connections between management practices and environmental outcomes are understood, environmental implications of policies are translated to the public and policymakers, and that the environmental performance of governments and companies is publicly disseminated. Replication of existing initiatives and further innovations can help to ensure that decisionmaking balances human impacts with the health of the planet.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

We need a revolution of decision making and awareness in order to tackle the complexity and urgent nature of our environmental problems. Earth's Vital Signs are indicators of ecological health or the earth's capacity to accommodate human demands. Human decisions about how to live on earth currently drive unsustainable trends. They can also help us change course.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki) exhibited at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD, USA; Photo: Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz) ; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.

Dematerialization

Pattern ID: 
839
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
18
Burl Humana
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Our current economic system that provides for our material needs works only by producing and selling things. The more we produce and the more we purchase the more we have so called progress and prosperity. However, the production, processing, and consumption, of commodities requires the extraction and use of natural resources (wood, ore, fossil fuels, water); it requires the creation of factories and factory complexes whose operation creates toxic byproducts, while the use of commodities themselves (e.g. automobiles) creates pollutants and waste. (Allyn and Bacon, 1999) The number of consumers and their individual and collective behaviors drive materialization. (Daedalus – 1996)

Context: 

Human societies now face unintended and ironic consequences of their own mechanical, chemical, medical, social, and financial ingenuity. (Iona Zira - 2003) The production and consumption of products is destructive, in the long run, to the environment and is a contributing factor to poverty and hunger around the world. A long list of social and ecological problems can not be solved without a less consumptive society and the dematerialization of our natural resources.

Discussion: 

Dematerialization is a technological term that defines the reduction of material used per unit quality of life. You may have noticed the plastic sack at the grocery store getting thinner, but it is still strong enough to carry your groceries. Over the years, it may seem that you can squeeze the pop can you drink from more easily with your hand though you may not have gotten any stronger. These types of changes in products are the result of dematerialization, using fewer natural resources in products, using more recycled resources, and extending the life of products.

Industrial ecology is the study of the totality of the relationships between different industrial activities, their products, and the environment. It is intended to identify ways to optimize the network of all industrial processes as they interact and live off each other, in the sense of a direct use of each other's material and energy wastes and products as well as economic synergism. The macroscopic picture of materialization can help raise key research questions and set priorities among the numerous studies of materials flows and networks that might be undertaken. It puts these in a dynamic context of both technical and market change. (Daedalus – 1996)

Dematerialization of unit products affects, and is influenced by, a number of factors besides product quality. These include ease of manufacturing, production cost, size and complexity of the product, whether the product is to be repaired or replaced, and the amount of waste to be generated and processed. These factors influence one another. For example, the ease of manufacture of a particular product in smaller and lighter units may result in lower production cost and cheaper products of lower quality, which will be replaced rather than repaired on breaking down. Although a smaller amount of waste will be generated on a per-unit basis, more units will be produced and disposed of, and there may be an overall increase in waste generation at both the production and the consumption ends. (Dr. Braden Allenby- 1992) Through industrial ecololgy we can determine best outcomes using a wider, more global outlook of the affects of our activities on the environment.

In a functional economy consumers can purchase function, rather than a physical product, from a service provider. "For example, we don't want the washing machine, we want clean, dry washing; we don't want the drill, we want to have a picture hanged." (Rolf Jucker - 2000) Through dematerialization a physical product is replaced by a non-physical product or service reducing a company's production, demand and use of physical products; and the end-user's dependence on physical products. This strategy realizes cost-savings in materials, energy, transportation, consumables, and the need to manage the eventual disposal and/or recycling of a physical product. Dematerialization may involve making a product smaller and lighter, replacing a material product with an immaterial substitute. One common example of this that we currently practice is the replacement of postal mail with E-mail. Reducing the use of material or infrastructure-intensive systems allows us to make changes like telecommuting versus the use of the automobile for work purposes.

The ease and speed of travel is a large contributing factor to the materialization of our world. As a society we have spread out and continue to create a built environment all over the map because it is so quick and easy to get from here to there. As we create wider, better roads, more cars fill the roadways. The use of plastics in society is the by product of using too much oil to fuel our automobiles. As a result the disposal of plastic waste is an increasing problem. Not to mention the effect on the environment due to the incredible amount of industrialized metals, plastics, electronic materials, rubber, and glass it takes to manufacture each car. A recent television ad with a woman talking about the need to protect the environment ended with this endearment, “but, I love my car!” Attempts to dematerialize the automobile by using high strength steel and plastics to decrease mass but increase structural integrity are negatively offset by this kind of sentiment by consumers.

A starting point for a sensible theory or practice of consumption has to be the insight that every time you buy and/or consume something--be it a tiny battery to keep your watch going or be it a TV, a car or a hamburger, you are making an impact on the social, economic, and ecological environment. In the words of Anwar Fazal, former president of the International Organization of Consumer Unions (IOCU): "The act of buying is a vote for an economic and social model, for a particular way of producing goods. We are concerned with the quality of goods and the satisfactions we derive from them. But we cannot ignore the environmental impact, and working conditions under which products are made." Our relationship with these products or goods does not end with our enjoyment of possessing or consuming them. We are linked to them and perpetuate them and therefore share some direct responsibility for them." (Rolf Jucker - 2000)

Life-styles also shape demand. Today, only a small fraction of consumption in wealthy nations (or communities) is actually for basic survival; most is for pleasure and to express one's standing in society. (Daedalus - 1996) In a standup monologue, comedian George Carlin used humor to increase our awareness of society's obsessive behavior for material objects, “That's all I want, that's all you need in life, is a ….place for your stuff, ya know? A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it…I can see it on your table, everybody's got a ...place for their stuff. ….This is my stuff, that's your stuff, that'll be his stuff over there...And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn't want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff…That's what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get...more stuff! Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore…" Sometimes the beginning to an answer for a serious problem like too much materialism and consumerism is to create personal awareness.

Of the three factors environmentalists often point to as responsible for environmental problems — population, technology, and consumption — consumption seems to get the least attention. One reason ... is that it may be the most difficult to change; our consumption patterns are so much a part of our lives that to change them would require a massive cultural overhaul, not to mention severe economic dislocation. A drop in demand for products, as economists note, brings on economic recession or even depression, along with massive unemployment. This is so ingrained into the cultures of the wealthy nations, that the thought of massive adjustment of lifestyles and economic systems to a more sustainable consumption seems too much to consider. (Annup Shaw - 2005) Taking a moderate approach with gradual or incremental changes in lifestyle could increase the probability of an actual decrease in consumption.

Substantial progress has been made over the past century in decoupling economic growth and well-being from increasing primary energy use through increased efficiency. With this success some economists may come to think that dematerialization is a term for scientific processes and economic strategies alone and has nothing to do with materialism as a philosophy. On the other hand there is increased realization that “decoupling materials and affluence will be difficult—much harder than decoupling carbon and prosperity." (Daedalus - 1996) The term dematerialization applies to the individual act of buying less, consuming less and finding more meaning in our lives than the acquisition of material goods. Downsizing our homes, our automobiles, our technological toys and entertainment systems, our cloths closets, and the consumptive habits we teach our children can help people simplify their lives and find other interests that create more meaning, value, and happiness. Understanding the historical roots of materialism that have resulted in our modern affluence could also be key to decreasing our personal use and obsession with material goods in the built world.

Solution: 

Consumption has become a function of our culture that needs to be intentionally curbed. The growing role of knowledge, information, and culture should also make it possible to displace materials and energy with human intelligence and ingenuity. This would allow us to satisfy more basic human needs with far fewer resources. It would ostensibly also allow us to fit human economic activities within natural processes without disrupting them. Dematerialization is the future of an ecologically and economically balanced world. (Allyn and Bacon, 1999)

Verbiage for pattern card: 

The production and consumption of products is destructive to the environment and contributes to poverty and hunger. Dematerialization means using fewer natural resources, using more recycled resources, and extending the life of products. The growing role of knowledge, information, and culture should make it possible to displace materials and energy more intelligently and ingeniously, thus allowing us to satisfy basic human needs with fewer resources.

Pattern status: 
Released

Translation

Pattern ID: 
452
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
15
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

People who speak different languages cannot understand each other without benefit of translation. A related problem, which may be more insidious, arises when two or more people think they're speaking the same language when they're not. "Languages," furthermore, are of various types, in addition to what we usually think of — English, Japanese, or Hindi, for example. Some people seem to speak only "Technical" or "Post Modern Academician" which can be incomprehensible from outside those cultures. Finally, there is often an implied "pecking order" in which one language (and its speakers) are viewed as dominant or more important while other languages (and its speakers) are devalued and bear an unequal share of the burden of understanding.

Context: 

This pattern applies in any situation where two or more languages are employed. Here "language" is applied broadly. For example, with global climate change looming, scientists must be able to engage in two-way conversations effectively; social scientists must be able to do the same if their work is to have relevance and resonance. Translation takes place when any two worlds of discourse are bridged.

Discussion: 

This includes translation between systems of knowledges (e.g. theorist to practitioner) as well as translations between different languages. "A text is a machine for eliciting translations." — Umberto Eco, Translating and Being Translated

Although cultures are maintained through a variety of institutions, the use of a common language may be the deepest and most abiding tie that binds a culture together. Language is a reflection of, and a window into, culture. Of course people speak many languages; children may invent secret words to describe the world they see and would like to see, Slang is shared by youth culture, academic disciplines use certain phrases, neolisms etc. to participate in a shared intellectual pursuit, while religious communities have expressions of sacred and profane ideas of special significance. If, however, every person in the world spoke only one language, a language that had no words in common, then each group would be, in essence, a group by itself cut off from the rest of the social world. Trade would be virtually impossible as would diplomacy and sharing of intellectual creations, technological and artistic. War is one social activity that probably would not be hampered by this barrier to communication (although negotiating an end to the hostilities would be extremely difficult, if not possible.) Thus translation is a bridge that connects two or more cultures or two or more people. Translation allows two or more groups or people to come to a common understanding and it allows them to take advantage of the special or expert knowledge of the other. Translation is also a social process that is embedded in particular social contexts and is subjected to the dictates of that context. For example, the burden of translation is often expected to fall upon the lower status or less dominant group. Thus, many Spanish speakers in the U.S. are "expected" to learn English (majority rules — in more ways than one). People who lack fluency in the dominant language (English, BBC English, or Techno-speak, for example) are often considered ignorant. Umberto Eco captures a key difficulty in translation:

"Equivalence in meaning cannot be take as a satisfactory criterion for a correct translation, first of all because in order to define the still undefined notion of translation one would have to employ a notion as obscure as equivalence of meaning, and some people think that meaning is that which remains unchanged in the process of translation. We cannot even accept the naïve idea that equivalence in meaning is provided by synonymy, since it is commonly accepted that there are no complete synonyms in language. Father is not a synonym for daddy, daddy is not a synonym for papà, and père is not a synonym for padre."
 — Umberto Eco (2001).

As Eco makes clear in the quotations above, words in languages don’t have one-to-one equivalence. For that reason successful translation relies on a reasonable yet partial solution (actually a type of negotiation) to a number of interdependent problems. Totally accurate translation is impossible but imperfect translation is ubiquitous — and essential. Moreover, the context of the words in the sentence, the sentence in the paragraph, etc. etc. that is being translated, all within the context of the inspiration and intent and audience are all relevant when translating. Translation, therefore, is not a mechanical act, but a skilled and empathetic re-rewriting or re-performing of a text or utterance or intention in which an understanding of the two cultures being bridged is essential. More precisely, an understanding of the two respective audiences, intended and otherwise, the vocabulary they employ, their education, biases, fears, etc. are all central to a good, solid and mutually satisfactory translation. Although the following quotation is specifically examining the differences of psychology and sociology by their focus of individuals and collective bodies respectively, it captures a central question in translation.

To address the problem of different and incommensurable perspectives in the human sciences, two issues need to be considered. First, we must find a way to link perspectives without simply reducing one to another. One guiding assumption of this volume is that attempts to account for complex human phenomena by invoking a perspective grounded in a single discipline are as unlikely as were the attempts of each of the three blind men to come with the true account of an elephant. The goal, then, is to arrive at an account — a kind of "translation at the crossroads" — that would make it possible to link, but not reduce, one perspective to another.
   — James V. Wertsch (1998)

Solution: 

Think about the critical role of translation and, if possible, become a translator — or at least when the need arises where you can help bridge a gap of understanding. From the point-of-view of social amelioration translations between two particular cultures may be of more immediate than two others. On the other hand, all cultures must ultimately have connections and mutual understanding is necessary, but not sufficient, for a positive future.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

People who speak different languages cannot understand each other without benefit of Translation. And sometimes people think they're speaking the same language when they're not. Translation takes place when any two worlds of discourse are bridged. Think about the critical role of Translation and, if possible, become a translator or — when the need arises — a person who can help bridge a gap of understanding.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Babel by Bruegel, Wikicommons

Health as a Universal Right

Pattern ID: 
870
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
5
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The crisis in health care worldwide has reached catastrophic proportions. Each day 9,000 people die from AIDS and 11,000 children die from malnutrition. Over one billion people have no access to clean water and half the people in the world live on under $2 (US) per day. The worsening conditions of the world's impoverished people provide almost ideal conditions for the cultivation of disease, including those that could reach epidemic or pandemic proportions. In addition, a somewhat invisible epidemic of depression and other mental illnesses are taking a heavy toll on people throughout the developing world.

Context: 

The economic divisions between people have become astronomical — and they are still widening. Within this context, the majority of people are literally living from one day to the next. Understandably, the health of these people is severely compromised. People everywhere and in all walks of life have cause for alarm.

Discussion: 

Environmental changes are adding additional strains to the already imperiled lives of the world's poorest people. "Droughts will worsen. We will see deforestation, forest fires, a loss of diversity, and degradation of the environment" according to Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization" (Stevenson, 2006). Not surprisingly, the poorest — and hence most vulnerable — people are often the first victims of the severely declining standards of health in much of the developing world. As Paul Epstein of Harvard Medical School said, "Today climate instability and the exhaustion of resources (forests, soils, water, biodiversity), together with the growing inequity and deepening poverty, are resulting in the emergence, resurgence and redistribution of infectious disease, stalking humans, plants and animals. The conditions are not sustainable, and the mounting social and economic costs are creating convergent agendas among members of civil society, international institutions and the economic sector."

Why are things different today? For one thing the sheer number of people on the planet seems to be approaching the limits to the world's capacities. Unfortunately the trends are all heading in the wrong direction. Furthermore people everywhere are more tightly connected. It is no longer true that we live in isolated communities. The tight connections, although remote, give rise to "causes" (although diffuse and multiple) that are often far away from the person who ultimately falls ill.

Clearly humankind has a moral obligation to establish health as a human right. That is a reasonable first step. More importantly, humankind has the obligation to act forcefully and diligently as if it actually believed that health was an inalienable human right. However, as Garrett and Rosenstein report, global health as an issue is "not only for do-gooders." They go on to say that, "A self-interest component to the global health debate has clearly emerged — thankfully, because purely altruistic efforts often fall short of international support and sustainability. The interconnected nature of the world makes ignorance of issues such as deadly infectious diseases not only immoral, but self-destructive."

Health must not, however, be viewed solely as providing medical care after disaster or disease strikes. While it's true that a pill or injection can save a life, the person whose life has just been saved will soon find him or herself back in an environment that leads inexorably to poor health, compromised ability to work gainfully, and a diminished life-span. Nor is health something that can be attained solely through research. A focus on "the cure" for this disease or that disease is a typically a type of welfare program for western researchers. It's a search for a magic" silver bullet" or technocratic approach that, while often very important, will be only effective in conjunction with other approaches.

Extreme and persistent poverty is the primary cause of ill-health and premature death around the world. If people weren't in desperate poverty, if they earned an adequate living, the incidence of disease would plummet. Especially today health is linked to poverty. This poverty is not confined to individuals, but covers large sections of the world's rural areas, towns and cities and, indeed, entire countries. If, for example, a person enters the hospital in many parts of the world he or she is likely to find infection, unsanitary conditions and a scarcity of drugs, bandages, surgical equipment and other vital medical supplies.

Paul Farmer is one the most articulate and hardest-hitting advocate for health care for all of the world's inhabitants, especially those who are the poorest and most vulnerable. He identifies structural inequalities that often originate in the first world as sources of great of the misery that now exists in the third. The "roots" of the problem are likely to lead further upstream than exposure to a microbe in polluted water to a bank in London, an energy company in Houston, or a government office in Washington, D.C. As part of his work and study, Farmer traveled to prisons in the former Soviet Union and to Chiapas, Haiti, and other marginalized locations around the world to work with people in need of medical care and to witness firsthand how health conditions were being met — or not met — around the world. In his book, Pathologies of Power (2003), he proposes a "new agenda" for health and human rights" that includes the following five facets:

• Make Health and Healing the Symbolic Core of the Agenda
• Make Provision of Services Central to the Agenda
• Establish New Research Agendas
• Achieve Independence from Powerful Governments and Bureaucracies
• Secure More Resources for Health and Human Rights

Farmer's "new agenda" is comprehensive, holistic and ambitious. At the same time, it seems that anything less would be insufficient. NGOs and philanthropists, no matter how well-heeled, will not be able to do this work by themselves. The multi-pronged approach resembles the Open Research and Action Network pattern — but writ very large. He is not unrealistic about the chances for success. He lists a number of significant challenges to this agenda including the possibility that increasing the involvement of NGOs will help hasten, "the withdrawal of states from the basic business of providing housing, education, and medical resources usually means further erosion of the social and economic rights of the poor."

The "new agenda" would take a mammoth effort that would integrate direct care, research, and popular mobilization. Ultimately Farmer's recommendations could provide an umbrella for many types of efforts. Health care professionals could take Sabbaticals in developing countries to assist with health care. Religious people could put renewed vigor into projects to alleviate human suffering. The 400+ billionaires in the US (and everybody) could follow the lead of Bill Gates and others and donate substantial amounts of their amassed riches to the effort. At the same time, the rest of us could agitate for health-related initiatives including cheaper drugs from multi-national pharmacuetical companies and authentic foreign aid that wasn't based on arms or oil.

Garrett and Rosenstein (2005) point out that, "with very few exceptions, the disease amplifiers in the world today are manmade and therefore humanly controllable. ... exotic animal markets, unclean urban water supplies, lack of proper sewage systems, and unstable, conflict-ridded environments provide excellent breeding grounds for infectious diseases to spread and wreak havoc on vulnerable populations. Yet it would be short sided to think of infectious disease as a problem for solely the poor and powerless. These diseases do not discriminate; they are undeterred by state borders, party affiliation, or socioeconomic status. With air travel and human migration on the rise, so too is the possibility that deadly microbes can and will circumnavigate the globe with speed and precision."

Solution: 

Humankind is faced with the massive problem of declining public health. To be successful it will need to redirect its resources from activities that exacerbate the crisis to ones that overcome it. Ideologies, however dear, as well as ingrained habits and pursuit of short-term "self-interest" are likely to defeat any grand initiatives such as this. Regardless of whether that suspicion reflects cynicism or just realism is irrelevant: we must persevere.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

The worldwide health care crisis is profound. Each day 9,000 people die from AIDS and 11,000 children die from malnutrition. We need to redirect our resources from activities that exacerbate the crisis to ones that overcome it. Ideologies, ingrained habits, and pursuit of short-term "self-interest" work against the establishment of Health as a Universal Right.

Pattern status: 
Released
Syndicate content