Economic indexes of various kinds attempt to measure the well being of nations, markets, corporations, individual people, and society. Most of these economic indexes express return only in monetary format and risk is calculated on the standard deviation of this monetary expression. These economic indexes need to also include information that makes life worth living, natural and social capital (living capital), so non-monetary rewards are also included in the standard deviation and risks to human well being can be indicated more accurately.
Trading on the benchmark of indices has become increasingly popular over the last few years. As indexes become more widely used than ever before they become easy indicators, for those they benefit, in measuring how our world is doing, according to them, and skew the honest reality for mankind that we hope to protect. It is imperative to accurately measure the well being of nations, corporations, individual people, and societies through indexes that adequately reflect the true costs and benefits contributing to the well being of our world.
Indexes take on a market theory notion that the efficient frontier has all the information needed to calculate an accurate return (reward) versus risk (cost) index. Following this notion is the idea that filtering the market for certain criteria of a specialized index lowers the amount of return received for risk taken, because filtered information is inefficient. This raises questions about the efficiency of markets because active managers filter economic information everyday to create specialized portfolios to increase return. On this, it would theoretically stand that an index measuring the well being of society could filter for criteria rewarding the common good with little to no ill effect from lack of the so called efficiency imbibed by the market.
Around the globe, there is an increase in the number of sustainability and social responsibility indexes (SRI). These indexes came out of first generation socially conscious investing that excluded corporate stock from investment portfolios on the basis of particular activities deemed to be unethical. From this, a second generation has emerged and the focus of SRI has changed primarily to identifying social and environmental issues that are material to business performance. This is an increased attempt by companies to assess the materiality of sustainability issues on (stock) value creation. These indices paint a picture that socially responsibility is only important when a financial gain is made by corporations or stockholders. This is not exactly what we are looking for when we hope to use indexes to help measure the well being of our world. When individual investors purchase SRI traded securities/indexes they still have to deal with the reality that the costs to living capital are making life less valuable even while their portfolios grow.
Gross Domestic Product (GDP)/Gross National Product (GNP) per capita has most lately been used as an index of standard of living in an economy. GDP/GNP only measures the populations ease in satisfying their material wants (an index of reward for risk taken) and all else that contributes to the sustainability of people and the environment is lost. "Adding up the monetary transactions in an economy and calling this prosperity obscures an honest account of the well being of nations." (Anielski, 2000)
Quality of life and standard of living should not be separate measurements in an index "A more complex index of standard of living than GDP must be employed to take into account not only the material standard of living but also other factors that contribute to human well-being such as leisure, safety, cultural resources, social life, mental health, and enironmental quality issues, to name a few." (Anielski, 2000)
Simon Kuznets' idea [in] favour of more inclusive measures, less dependent on markets..." (Anielski, 2000) rings true as a more realistic approach to well-being. "The eventual solution would obviously lie in devising a single yardstick of both economies [virtual wealth money,debt, stock markets; and real wealth human, natural and social capital] that would perhaps lie outside the different economic and social institutions and be grounded in experimental science (of nutrition, warmth, health, shelter, etc.)." (Anielski, 2000) The business for this millennium is to take up this empirical economic challenge for a single bottom line index for national well-being.
The U.S. Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) and its predecessor, the Index for Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) provide the basis for developing a new accountancy to address Kuznets challenge. The U.S. GPI released in 1995 and since updated is one of the most ambitious attempts at calculating the total benefits and costs related to [economics for community] for the US. First developed by Clifford W. Cobb, GPI/ISEW remains one of the most important attempts to measure sustainable current welfare." (Anielski, 2000)
"The GPI adds a cost side to the growth ledger, begins to account for the aspects of the economy that lie outside the realm of monetary exchange, acknowledges that the economy exists for future generations as well as for the present one and adjusts for income disparities. The GPI begins with personal consumption expenditures as a baseline, the way the GDP does. Personal spending by households makes up roughly 65 percent of the US GDP. The GPI then make a series of 24 adjustments for unaccounted benefits, depreciation costs (for social and natural capital) and deducts regrettable social and environmental expenditures. Specific elements of the GPI include personal consumer expenditures, income, value and cost of consumer spending on durable goods and household capital, cost of household pollution abatement, cost of commuting, cost of crime, cost of automobile accidents, cost of family breakdown, value of housework and parenting, value of voluntary work, loss of leisure time, services of streets and highways, cost of underemployment, air pollution, ozone depletion, water pollution, noise pollution, cost of depletion of non renewable, loss of forests, long term environmental damage, loss of wetlands, net capital investment, net foreign lending/borrowing." (Anielski, 2000) The GPI has also set goals for itself "to improve its framework in the areas of human capital, technology, government spending, social infrastructure, natural capital and environmental accounts, ecological carrying capacity, genetic diversity, water projects, workplace environment, underground economy, and pollution and lifestyle induced disease." (Anielski, 2000)
The results of the GPI reveal that " well being has declined while virtual wealth (debt, stock markets) have grown exponentially. One could say that while we are making more money we are effectively eroding the living capital which makes our lives worthwhile. The primary benefit of the GPI is to provide decision makers with a more holistic account of the economic well-being of their community ." (Anielski, 2000)
"Any accounting system of well-being must be aligned with the values, experiences, and physical realities of the citizens of a community. The challenge in future GPI/ISEW accounting will be the ability of constructing accounts that are consistent with the held values, principles, and ethical foundation of a community or society." (Anielski, 2000)
Alternative indexes like the Genuine Progress Indicator that include natural and human capital can illuminate our world on the real picture of human well being that can be obfuscated by traditional economic indexes. "The ultimate utility of such measurement efforts is that the information provides evidence of trends in the welfare of society." (Aneilski, 2000)
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Economic indexes that measure the well-being of nations, markets, corporations, individual people, and society as a whole are expressed only in monetary terms and miss several important factors; they need to factor in information on positive factors such as volunteering and housework and negative factors such as pollution and crime.
Conscientious social or environmental activists try to understand the issues or problems they confront, and not just act blindly. However, significant issues are typically intricate, ill-defined,, and conceptually complicated, to the point where whole careers are devoted to sorting out small portions of them, and action is delayed indefinitely or activist energy dissipated. But the alternative of rushing to action, substituting passion or outrage for understanding is counterproductive in its own well-documented ways.
This pattern is for people, on their own or within organizations, who are ready to initiate meaningful action. They have done enough analysis of whatever issue or problem they are concerned with, and have developed enough conviction to be sure that action is needed. Their question is, What action? or perhaps, How can I focus the notions, wishes, and urges that surround this issue into specific, meaningful steps? This pattern does not give detailed answers
The complexity of significant issues in the present time is overwhelming. This is obvious for national issues such as health care, outsourcing of jobs, or energy policy. But small scale problems, such as a derelict lot, are often equally complex (think of drug dealing, vandalism, invasive plants, liability, and city departmental turf battles) in relation to the energy and good will available to deal with them. Seemingly obvious moves ("Let's all clean it up!") get blocked in unexpected ways ("Who are you to order us around?") or generate further issues (the lot becomes a better place to play hooky). The activist has to escape the "paralysis of analysis," but also must be accurate about the effects and costs of actions, which can radiate far beyond the immediate zone in which they occur.
Large and small scale social and environmental problems in the U.S. have come under concerted assault before, most notably in the Progressive era of the early 20th century. The great successes of that time, in clean water, safe housing, conservation of natural areas and much more, also established dispassionate expertise as the preferred approach to such issues (at least by liberals). Gather enough data, include enough considerations, weigh it objectively, and sensible, legally defensible decisions will emergeor so goes the argument. However, as the complexity of issues has increased, and as affluence has permitted many more parties to mobilize their own experts, the ideal of dispassionate expertise is becoming unreachable. Technicalities breed sub-technicalities, and the latter sub-sub-technicalities, in a fractal process of escalating delay and cost. And it turns out that many of the actors have more uses for the delays than for smooth functioning.
There is a way forward, embodied in the long tradition of physical design. Buildings, ships, bridges and dams, water systems and waste disposal are objects of transcendent complexity, if one tries to assemble in advance all the knowledge and technique that might be required to make them, but yet do come into existence, and serve their very diverse tasks effectively.
The process which generates buildings and bridges, namely "design," is quite different from expert-based decision-making, even though expertise plays an enormous role in it. Instead of assuming that the answer can be deduced definitively from the evidence, the designer takes a different stance: The designer constructs, in imagination, an intervention in the world, and then uses powerful representations of the world, such as drawings, mathematical models, or simulations, to assess the ways in which the contemplated intervention would change the world. Usually, modifications are indicated, and the process goes round again, often numerous times, before the design settles into final form.
This design stance can be used for many different kinds of problems, from housebuilding to social activism. Houses are a straightforward example to start with. The early stages of designing a house are typically to have some very general ideas about its features and character, to choose a location, and to make some rough sketches or diagrams about how the features might be physically embodied. (By the way, many houses are not designed. They are copied or cut-and-pasted together from previous buildings and unexamined assumptions. Such houses are not under discussion here.) Already at this point, constraints and limitations begin to show themselves, such as high cost or the difficulty of all rooms having the same dramatic ocean view. Client(s) and designer(s) re-imagine the house in ways that address these challenges somehow, and may also reveal opportunities, for example a convenient location for storage. New drawings emerge, often with labels as to sizes, materials, and the like.There may be several rounds of imagining and drawing. Eventually the drawings have become detailed and definite enough to guide construction. The dream has evolved into a reality.
Social activists often use much the same process to establish a program or campaign for a reform. The locus of action is societal, say a budget decision, rather than physical; the constraints may have more to do with politics or social history than with drainage or carpeting; the number of people affected may be much larger than a household; there may be spreadsheets or maps or organizational charts rather than sketches or blueprints. But the same cycle of construction an intervention in the world, using imagination aided by concrete representation, is there.
Therefore, approach issues with the stance of the designer: construct, in imagination assisted by concrete representation, ways to intervene in the world for the better. More specifically, choose a client, a locus of action and a form of intervention; use static or dynamic simulations to indicate how the setting will react to your intervention; gather information and make analyses (but limit the scale to the smallest allowed by your setting) to shape the details of your contemplated intervention; modify, adjust, and refine repeatedly, evaluating effects at each round. Assume few limits at the start, and use the iterative process of modifying and evaluating to teach you which real limits exist and how to cope with them. When the right balance of timeliness and effectiveness presents itself, follow Samuel Mockbee's advice: "Proceed and be bold."
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How can people or organizations focus notions, wishes, and urges into specific, meaningful steps? Design Stance suggests a productive mode of thinking in which issues are approached with the stance of the designer: construct, in imagination assisted by concrete representations, ways to intervene in the world for the better. Assume few limits at the start, and iteratively modify and evaluate. When the right balance of timeliness and effectiveness presents itself, follow Samuel Mockbee's advice: Proceed and be bold.
Dept. of Media Studies, University of San Francisc
A key challenge facing movements for social change is the global commercial media. A handful of western-based trans-national media corporations, working in tandem with regional companies, control most programming, emphasising entertainment to recruit urban consumers, and circulating news primarily framed by the interests of corporate business and western foreign policy. Public programming to encourage dialogue and debate of public issues has withered. Stark inequalities are increasing, in both poor and rich countries, between those with the full means to produce communications and those without, especially if we factor in the violence of poverty, illiteracy, and patriarchal, racial, and caste oppression.
A global network of communications activists, advocates and researchers is emerging to address these problems. This network of networks operates simultaneously on at least three planes, the construction of alternative communications media, the reform of the mainstream corporate and state media, and the support of trans-national communications networks for social change movements. Alternative media projects (zines, radio, video, television and internet sites and blogs) not only serve people seldom represented in the corporate media; they also demonstrate what democratic media might look like in their alternative content, modes of operation and overall philosophy. Communication reformers campaign to make existing local, national and global communications systems more accessible, representative, accountable and participatory.
Finally, media activists work in support of social change movements whose transnational communications networks also provide additional links for the movements to democratize media.
Why now? This is due to at least three inter-related global trends. First, the global shift to neo-liberalism presents people all over the world with a complicated, but very clear set of common problems. Secondly, the communications networks first emerged as links among social justice movements to address these common problems. Finally, the network of communications networks began to take its own shape, as groups everywhere inventively adapted the glut of consumer hardware and software from the transnational corporate market.
A New World Information Communications Order (NWICO)
The trans-national movement to transform communications predates the shift to global neo-liberalism. During the 1970s, led by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a coalition of national governments of the global south, mobilized to challenge the old imperial status quo in which news, information and entertainment media were controlled by western governments and corporate powers. They called within the UN System for a New World Information and Communications Order (NWICO), for an end to the dominance of the western colonial powers, the equitable distribution of the worlds information resources, the right to communicate, and the support of alternative and community based media in democratizing communications. Rejecting this multilateral consensus, the US and UK Governments withdrew from the Commission, arguing with the commercial media industry that any measures to limit western media corporations or journalists represented state censorship of the free flow of information.
The US instead shifted to what we now call neo-liberalism, or the Washington agenda. They called for market rules (privatization of public resources and deregulation of government oversight of corporations) at home and abroad. The Reagan Government successfully gutted anti-trust and public interest rules, as well as public support programs at home, and pushed for the implementation of similar policies in other countries through their powerful voice in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Bank (WB). However, the US Government was still unable to win in the multilateral arena, failing to get culture (AV services) onto the trade block in the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs (GATT), the precursor to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Instead, they decided to work on the less powerful countries one or two at a time, and began unilateral free trade talks with Taiwan, Canada and Mexico.
During the same decade, the number and sophistication of alternative media projects and networks grew around the world. These networks emerged both from the confluence of links between social movements, primarily from the countries of the south, mobilizing against the Washington agenda; and alternative media groups inventively seizing the newly available consumer production media. Primarily based in local geographic communities, media activists began to link across their own countries, national and regional boundaries to share resources, and campaign for greater access to radio, cable and satellite, and the newly emerging computer-linked systems. They also began to support one another on common issues, including the massive cuts in public spending and state-run services, the growth in global media conglomeration, and the US, Japanese and European calls for global standards in digital systems and copyright rules.
The trans-national networks begun in this era include the World Association of Community Radio (AMARC) , and the Association of Progressive Communicators (APC ). AMARC now operates via regional organizations, programme sharing through special theme-connected collaborations (against, for example, discrimination against women, and racism) and global media reform coalitions. Formed to support the global network of women, labour, ecologists, indigenous peoples, and of activists organizing against free trade and corporate globalization, APC continues to build on the idea of communication rights, prioritizing the capacity building of women, rural and poor people, and the media reform efforts of member groups.
During the 1990s, a new set of activists demonstrated the more tactical use of the technologies and networks in political change. In 1989, the pro-democracy activists of Tienanmen Square in Beijing China used fax machines to get their message out to the world . In 1994, the Zapatista National Liberation Army built on what Harry Cleaver called the emerging trans-national electronic fabric of struggle, employing old and new media, and global media networks, to challenge the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Then, in 1997, the Korean labor and social movement activists use highly sophisticated broadband media to demonstrate against the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and also opened Jinbonet, the first Web-based interactive peoples news service. This alternative vision of communications took another leap forward in 1999 when the first Independent Media Center (IMC) formed in Seattle to support the protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO). Drawing from the Zapatistas, the IMCistas created a global news network. Building on the existing networks opposed to corporate globalization, and providing easy-to-use open-publishing software, the global IMC quickly grew to over 150 centers around the world.
International Network for Communications Reform
In the last five years, the network of networks has begun to flex its collective muscles to reform the dominant global media system. Coalitions of activists, often in tandem with progressive government representatives, are calling for more democratic communications at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) (); against the US push for the free trade of culture, with a Convention on Cultural Diversity, adopted by UNESCO in 2005 (http://www.cdc-ccd.org>); and for the protection of the global knowledge commons with a Development Agenda and a Treaty on Access to Knowledge and Technology at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
More than a coalition of Nos, this new network of networks demonstrates that another communications is possible and already happening. Its strength is based in cooperation via social movement organizing, media reform campaigns and the adaptation of information and communications for the greater use of all. Almost all are severely challenged by their lack of sustainable funds and technical resources, and continuing inequities between members of racialized and gendered class differences and of cultural capital. However, faced with the stark realities of neo-liberal immiseration, the network continues to build, creating a complex lattice of local-local, regional (especially south-south), and trans-national links that circumvent the old colonial north-south linkages and power dynamics. If there is one glaring structural vacuum, it is the lack of involvement of US activists, and particularly those based in US communities and social justice movements. In the next five years, one of the key challenges will be for US activists to bring together efforts for media justice in the US, recognize the leadership of the rest of the world, and assist in mobilizing against the Washington agenda at home.
What can people do to help build this network? In their own area, they can help support or produce programming for their local alternative communications media. They can also find and support the existing local, national and global campaigns to reform the mainstream corporate and state media. This is especially crucial in the US, whose media and media policy affect so much of the world. Finally they can educate themselves about whats going on in their own communities, national and especially internationally, and then help link the work of the local and global justice networks.
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A handful of Western-based transnational corporations control most media programming. They emphasize entertainment and news acceptable to business and Western foreign policy. A global network of communications activists, advocates, and researchers is working to reform the mainstream media and to construct alternative media. Alternative media projects not only serve people; they also demonstrate what democratic media might look like.
In an era when international cooperation is critical no overall reliable system of global governance is in place that enjoys universal respect and satisfies concerns about accountability of leaders, participation of peoples and their representatives, and transparency of the regulatory process itself. Particularly disturbing is the persistent tendency of political leaders to consider resort to war as their fundamental instrument for the resolution of international conflict and to divert vast resources to the preparation for war without being constrained by the limits set by international law governing the use of force.
It is important not to overstate the role and contributions of international law, which in the past has been used to lend an appearance of legality to colonialism and aggressive war as well as to serve the interests of oppressive governments who engaged in abuses of their populations, being shielded by the law that upheld the territorial supremacy of sovereign states.
International law is relevant in many different settings that reflect the extraordinary diversity of transnational activity in the contemporary world. Legal professionals- lawyers- represent governments, corporations, banks, international institutions- to facilitate their activities, both by acting within the limits set by regulations contained in international law, and by altering legal standards to the extent helpful for more orderly conduct of affairs. Ordinary citizens, NGOs, and international civil servants all invoke international law to influence policy debates on a variety of global issues. International law is an important means for communicating claims and grievances, and provides insight into whether particular demands are reasonable or not.
The viability of international law has been recently drawn into serious question by the American response to the 9/11 attacks. It has been claimed that the nature of international terrorism combined with potential access to weaponry of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, makes it unreasonable for states to wait to be attacked. The United States Government relied on such reasoning to justify its invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was widely regarded by international law specialists and world public opinion as a flagrant violation of both the UN Charter and international law. International law is partly motivated by considerations of mutual convenience (e.g. the immunity of ambassadors, safety signals at sea) and partly reflective of the accumulated wisdom of seasoned statesmen.
From the perspective of the United States, the country that is most responsible for establishing the legal framework governing war after World War II and also the main challenger in light of recent global developments, the resolution of the debate about whether to limit foreign policy by reference to international law is of the greatest importance. It should be noted that the two greatest failures in American foreign policy in the last fifty years have resulted from the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. These failures would not have occurred if American policy had been self-limited by reference to international law. It is a general fallacy to suppose that in the twenty-first century a powerful country is better off if it is not restricted in its policy options by law. The evidence suggests that the restrictions contained in international law reflect the encoded wisdom of several centuries of statecraft. The narrowing of the availability of war by international law over the course of the last century is an acknowledgement, in large part, of the growing dysfunctionality of war as instrument for the resolution of conflict.
It is not only war and uses of force that need to be regulated effectively by international law, it is also necessary for advancing the human security of peoples throughout the world afflicted by disease, poverty, environmental degradation, oppressive governance. Respect for law and international institutions encourages cooperative problem-solving that is increasingly necessary given the realities of globalization. In this regard, it is necessary to adapt the law-making procedures of the world to the significant roles being played by a variety of non-state actors, including market forces, regional organization, and civil society organizations. Whether incorporating this globalizing agenda and these non-state actors is achieved by an enlarged conception of international law, or by a transition in legal conceptualizing that adopts the terminology of global law is less important than the realization that the law dimension of world order is of critical importance in the struggle to achieve a less violent, more equitable, and more sustainable future for the whole of humanity.
The prospects for strengthening international law have two important current centers of gravity: (1) the unresolved debate in the United States as to whether to pursue security within a framework that respects international law and the authority of the United Nations. The learning experience associated with the failure of the Iraq policy needs to be converted into a renewed appreciation that reliance on military dominance and discretionary wars is dysfunctional at this stage of history, and that a voluntary respect for international law would simultaneously serve the national and global interest.
The resolution of this debate is of great importance to Americans and the world because of the leadership role that the United States plays on the global stage. The evidence supports the view that American global leadership will only recover its claims of legitimacy if it is able to revive its earlier enthusiasm for promoting the rule of law in world politics.
(2) This specific debate, heightened in intensity after 9/11, hides an underlying set of issues associated with achieving a more effective and equitable approach to global governance in light of a series of world order challenges that have been generated by such problems as global warming, an imminent energy squeeze, mass migrations, and an array of self-determination struggles. At present, contradictory trends are undermining efforts to fashion a humane approach to these challenges. On the one side, globalization in all its forms is rendering the boundaries of states increasingly irrelevant to the patterning of many substantive concerns, while at the same time border controls are growing harsher and walls are being created to fence some people in and others out.
This requires a new set of international legal initiatives, ambitiously conceived, to address these problems in a manner that does not produce chaos, oppressive violence, and ecological collapse. It is no longer acceptable to consider that world order can be entrusted to sovereign states pursuing their short-term interests. Protecting the future for the peoples of the world presupposes an ethos of responsibility, which in turn rests on the willingness to replace traditions of unilateralism and coercion with improved procedures of cooperation and persuasion. It is here that the past and future of international law offers hope to humanity provided the turn away from law can be reversed.
The growing fragility and complexity of international life provides a fundamental argument for strengthening international law, and for moving toward the establishment of global law that is able to regulate for the common good activities of market forces, regional organizations, international institutions, civil society actors, as well as the behavior of states. With a growing prospect of an energy squeeze requiring a momentous shift to a post-petroleum world society, the strains on regulatory regimes will be immense. Trust in and respect for international law will encourage approaches that are more likely to be fair and effective than the sort of chaos and resentments that will follow if relative power and wealth are relied upon to shift the main burdens of adjustment to the weak and poor.
The lessons of failed wars over the course of recent decades need to be converted into a sophisticated appreciation that reliance on military superiority and discretionary recourse to wars has become increasingly dysfunctional at this stage of history, and extremely wasteful with respect to vital resources needed to achieve other essential human goals, including the reduction of poverty, disease, and crime. Protecting the future for the peoples of the world presupposes an ethos of responsibility, which in turn rests on the willingness by both the powerful and the disempowered to replace whenever possible, coercion with persuasion, and to rely much more on cooperative and nonviolent means to achieve order and change. Law is centrally important in providing guidelines and procedures for moving toward a less violent, more equitable, and more sustainable future for the whole of humanity. With the rise of non-state actors (market and civil society actors; international institutions of regional and global scope) there is underway a necessary transition from an era of international law to an epoch of global law. It will be beneficial for the citizens and governments of the world to encourage this transition.
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No reliable system of global governance exists that is respected and satisfies concerns about accountability, participation, and transparency. Yet disturbingly, political leaders resort to war as the way to resolve international conflict. Preventing this in the future will require an ethos of responsibility and a willingness to rely on cooperative and nonviolent means to resolve conflict. Strengthening International Law will be critical for moving toward a less violent, more equitable, and more sustainable future for the whole of humanity.
Economic inequality is steadily rising worldwide: Nearly everywhere the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Although the world's economy has grown considerably over the past few decades, half of the world's population subsists on less than $2 (US) per day. At the same time, meaningful representation among the world's population is steadily declining. This lack of representation results from — and engenders — increasing power and diminishing accountability of the world's corporate and governmental institutions.
The social world as it now exists: vast needs — and intriguing possibilities — for citizen engagement with global affairs. The United Nations is an assembly for the world's nation's. Business, likewise, has an incredible assortment of institutions and events such as the World Economics Forum, the Chamber of Commerce, etc.
"The tremendous growth in the commitment to, and practice of, democracy in domestic settings juxtaposed against globalization's large-scale transfer of political decision-making to international institutions has made the almost complete lack of democracy at the international level the most glaring anomaly of the global system today." — Andrew Strauss
Richard Falk and Andrew Strauss have explored the possibility of a "Global Parliament" for several years. It is their work which inspires this pattern and many of the ideas advanced in this pattern originated in their writings. Disclaimer: The concept of a "Global Peoples Parliament" comes from Richard Falk and Andrew Strauss. The version advocated here is not "official" (nor authoritative).
Civil society is obligated to create institutions that are strong enough to challenge other organization -- governments, businesses, criminal groups, extremists -- but not on their terms.
This pattern has only partial analogs in the "real world." This is due, generally, to the extremely broad scope of its coverage — it is supposed to address all of the world's inhabitants! The very fact of globalization provides the most solid support (and for the need) of the World Citizen Parliament pattern. Smaller versions that approximate some aspects of this pattern do, of course, exist, and we can learn a lot from these experiments as we attempt to cultivate and grow democratic forms that are more wide-ranging. The European Parliament may be the most prominent example of a large civic society institution whose representatives are democratically elected by people from various countries.
This pattern is related to INDEPENDENT REGIONS, the first pattern in A Pattern Language. Alexander was striving to identify the right level of autonomy based on "natural limits to the size of groups that can govern themselves in a human way." Metropolitan regions will not come to balance until each one is small and autonomous enough to be an independent sphere of culture. That pattern's solution states that, "Wherever possible, work toward the evolution of independent regions in the world; each with a population between 2 and 10 million; each with its own natural and geographic boundaries; each with its own economy; each one autonomous and self-governing; each with a seat in a world government, without the intervening power of larger states or countries."
Alexander's pattern and ours have similarities and differences. Both presuppose an increased voice of the citizen through additional opportunities for participation and new collective bodies that are independent from governments as they now exist. At first glance the two approaches might seem incompatible — Alexander's pattern does not call for an all-citizen's body nor does this pattern mention autonomous regions. The parliament concept, however, does not rule out autonomous, independent regions per se, only that individual people would have a forum for addressing issues was outside of their independent region — or what looks very much like a country but with new boundaries that better reflected cultural and natural boundaries (which does little or nothing about addressing the realities of various cultural or ethnic or religious groups "stranded" behind redrawn boundaries). Moreover, the state conceptualized in Alexander's pattern could actually be attained in a more "natural" evolutionary way through this pattern.
Developing a top-down approach is neither viable nor consonant with the principles of civil society. This leaves us with the option of developing principles and ideas that are we believe are at the core of what a federation should be and allows the parliament grow or evolve, built from the seeds that we envision today. This envisioned global federation would then become a type of ecosystem for collective bodies. [Ideally it would be principled and explicitly cooperative -- but how to ensure? At the same time we would need to ensure that it doesn't become just another arena for people to exploit for their own interests. Use the Commons ideas from Bollier, Ostrom and others, for one thing. The World Social Forum provides many important ideas about how this could be accomplished. What distinguishes this from how things exist already is an explicit declaration and decision to participate in the project, to share information with others and to communicate with other collectives in the federation.
Collective groups are generally composed of people in a geographically delimited area (some of whom have passed certain formal requirements for membership and attained the status of citizen), of people with similar professional interests (e.g. medical associations or labor unions), or social aims or philosophy (American Civil Liberties Union, American Rifle Association, etc. )
The draft statement that I proposed at the Online Deliberation Conference / Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing Symposium, Stanford University, on May 22, 2005, sums up the important aspects of this pattern.
In many places attempts are being made to trivialize citizenship and reconstitute citizens as (everyday) consumers and (sporadic) voters. Real power is in many ways being transferred to large corporations and other unelected organizations such as the World Trade Organization.
Realizing the growing and critical importance of citizens and civic society in addressing humankind's common problems, we the undersigned propose the initiation of a "Grand Challenge" whose ultimate objective is the development of a World Citizen Parliament. We realize that this is an extremely complex project that will require years of complex, nuanced, creative and thoughtful negotiation and collaboration. We are aware that this project will have to address an extremely broad range of social and cross-cultural factors. We, however, believe that beginning this discussion in an explicit and open way is preferable to many other varieties of globalization that lack this transparency.
Moreover, we realize that precisely defining an ideal system in advance is impossible. For that reason, we propose to begin a principled, long-term, incremental, participatory design process that integrates experimental, educational, community mobilization, research and policy work all within a common intellectual orientation: specifically to provide an inclusive intellectual umbrella for a diverse, distributed civil society effort. We realize — of course — that this is an audacious proposal. However, we agree with Richard Falk, that a parliament or forum like this is critical for the future of humankind and our planet. Civil society historically is the birthplace of socially ameliorative visions. This effort is intended to help build a more effective platform for these efforts, to help address humankind's shared problems — such as environmental degradation, human rights abuses, economic injustice and war — that other sectors — notably government and business — are seemingly powerless to stem.
Ultimately we would expect that the recommendations that are issued will play important roles in policy development of the future as well as in our ways of thinking. Each of the experiments that we undertake in the next few years will undoubtedly have drawbacks, some of which will be revealed only as people attempt to address real concerns. Information and communication technology will play an important role in many of these projects and people in these fields will need to work with social scientists, representatives from civil society organizations and many others if a World Citizen Parliament that sensitively, fairly, and wisely explores and addresses the concerns of the under-represented citizens of the world is ever created.
Launch a non-centralized, heterogeneous, loosely-linked network of people, online and offline resources, institutions, deliberative and other collaborative settings. Develop articles, scholarly papers, opinion papers, manifestos, research findings, and anything else that is relevant to this effort. Develop concepts, design principles, and experiments that lay the groundwork for a World Citizen Parliament. The new deliberative bodies that we develop over the next few years will necessarily be advisory only at the onset.
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Governments and corporations have forums that further their interests. Civil society must create institutions that are strong enough to assert theirs. The deliberative bodies that we develop are likely to be advisory at the onset but hopefully will lay the groundwork for a more integrated and influential World Citizen Parliament as time goes on.
While we make our plans the opportunity vanishes. The world changes while you're still trying to figure out what the question is. We can't think or act intelligently in relation to the world if we think statically. The main problem is that we think that things change, one-at-a-time in ways that can be readily foreseen when, in actuality, things are constantly in flux. Misunderstanding of possibilities, mob tendencies, privacy abuses, subject to manipulation and control.
This pattern addresses the need for exploring (with the hope of improving) Mobile Intelligence. It's intended for researchers, activists, citizens and for anybody who is trying to make sense of the world.
John Urry articulated the need to reconceptualize sociology in such a way to better understand and explore the "mobilities" of our era (2000). Mobilities characterize movement from one state to another in the broadest sense. A reconceptualization of social mobilities extends the core notion of people moving from one place to another, whether to fight — or escape from — a war, pursue economic opportunities that aren't available at home, visit family, attend college, make a religious pilgrimages, conduct business or visit resorts or museums as a tourist. Urry reminds us that people are not the only entities in the social universe. These new mobilities include the movement of commodities, raw materials, microbes, mobs and soccer hooligans, AK-47s and fissionable material, ideologies, tactics, criminal networks, social issues, social movements, money (legitimate and otherwise), brands, virtual communities, financial information, smuggled people, radioactivity, movies, pirated DVDs, pollution, oil, electricity, water, surveillance, terrorist cells, drugs, and credit card information. In addition to those mobilities social status of individuals and, even identity itself, can change through movement to a higher or lower economic class, becoming a citizen — or refugee — in another country, or undergoing a sex change or religious conversion.
Urry points out that sociology places social interaction at is core and is therefore the proper intellectual home for these considerations. Yet sociology as it's currently construed was created at a certain point in Western history and it often presupposes notions like structure or function that belie the inherent complexity of social interactions, forces, etc. Its area of focus is like the old "flat earth" perspective where the areas outside the known territory are simply terra incognito.. Urry advocates a new type of sociology that extends the traditional sociological tenets to a new sociology that more accurately reflects today's realities. Specifically Urry adds, networks and fluids to the traditional idea of "region" (upon which "metaphor" the "sociological concept of society is based") as important exemplars to be added to the new mix of phenomena and artifacts that need to be considered when interpreting new social realities. Networks contain structure or what Urry calls "scapes," the "networks of machines, technologies, organizations, texts and actors that constitute various interconnected nodes," and "flows" which pass through the "scapes." Fluids, unlike networks, don't move discretely from node to node along scapes but are "heterogeneous, uneven mobilities of people, information, objects, money, images, and risks, that move chaotically across regions in strikingly faster and unpredictable shapes."
Some of the patterns in this language are ambiguous and hazy and whose recommendations can be summarized with non-committal "more research is needed" statements. One may get the impression that "more research" is always needed — if you ask an academic. Given the fact that all knowledge is incomplete, it may seem impossible to avoid that "last refuge" of a scholar, who is seemingly unable to make recommendation, until, they claim, their new research — once funded — will certainly bring the results that would enable them to make recommendations. The "Mobile Intelligence" pattern is one of those (hopefully few) patterns that generally follow the line above. It will surely morph in future versions of the language, possibly by splitting into several patterns that exploit new opportunities — or confront new threats — that were undreamt of today.
The coverage of this pattern extends from the most abstract and theoretical to the nitty-gritty street level. It relates to how we think and converse in broad strokes, about social change, the environment, etc. when we take the time outside of other work, as well as our thoughts and action when we're thrown-in a situation (Heidegger, 1962). In an example of the latter, Mary Jordan (2006) reports on an emerging new type of Mobile Intelligence:
"Cell phones and text messaging are changing the way political mobilizations are conducted around the world. From Manila to Riyadh and Kathmandu protests once publicized on coffeehouse bulletin boards are now organized entirely through text-messaging networks that can reach vast numbers of people in a matter of minutes.
The technology is also changing the organization and dynamics of protests, allowing leaders to control, virtually minute-by-minute, the movements of demonstrators, like military generals in the field. Using texts that communicate orders instantly, organizers can call for advances or retreats of waves of protesters."
And in 2003, when US President George Bush on a visit to London was keeping as far from the public eye as he could, protesters set up a "Chasing Bush" system that encouraged people to announce their Bush-sightings via the SMS on their cell phones which would then be relayed to protesters who would hasten to the location. The "Flash Mob" concept, in which a "spontaneous" gathering of a large number of people at a rug store or hotel lobby has been orchestrated with the aid of fast and inexpensive access to mobile communications, provides a glimpse into the future as to the absurd and amusing possibilities that the new technology can bring. It's easy to see that mobile communications has its dark sides, a point that Howard Rheingold brings up in his aptly-titled book Smart Mobs. A mob consists of people who are operating wholly at the limbic level. While "rationality" and "cool-headed reason" may be flawed, over-rated, and mostly mythical as operating concepts, consider a world in which they were totally absent.
New technologies (such as GPS, cell phones, cell phones with GPS, RFID, "smart cards", bar codes, laptops, "augmented reality" (where commercial information can be broadcast to your goggles), wireless technologies like 802.11b, etc..) are changing and are likely to continue to change our urban settings in particular (which are already undergoing massive changes due to globalization and new patterns of human settlements). Alex Steffen on his World Changing web site quotes the following from the Breaking the Game conference (2006) both permeate urban spaces (changing their uses) and change the way we look at buildings and place (changing development).
"[A]n emerging group of artists [is] deploying sensors, hand-held electronics, and faster Internet connections are developing projects that actively intervene in the shaping and reshaping of public spaces in contemporary cities. They are integrating digital technology into buildings in order to make them adaptive and responsive to the flows of human activity and environmental forces... They are scanning the unseen electromagnetic spectrum that surrounds specific places, and turning these data into compelling audio/visual experiences that both heighten and change our perception... Using PDAs and portable laptops connected wirelessly to databases, some artists are creating alternative social maps, counter-histories and individually annotated narratives about local populations in specific neighborhoods... Still others are using mobile social software to coordinate large numbers of bodies for political action; or devising playful and imaginary spaces within the city.... We don't have to leave or disconnect from physical space in order to connect to digital spaces. Artists, architects, technologists, urban planners, and others are recombining the two, connecting individuals and groups together at a variety of scales and intensities."
It is an understatement to say that mobile communications represents a major historic shift from historical patterns of communications. The Internet (and other) information and communication technologies have helped usher in tremendous changes already, but these changes may represent just the tip of the iceberg. Mobile communication is fast and increasingly commonplace. It opens up whole new arenas of both thought and action. Like many new technologies, the opportunities for abuse are legion — and critics should not be cowed into submission by new digital salesmen and their cheerleaders in the media. Some of the dimensions by which to consider barriers, boundaries and opportunities include: accessibility (costs of producing/consuming, location, language, etc.); relative size and influence and the relationship configuration between information producer and consumer (one or few or many or mass to one or few or many or mass); privacy, regulation, and control; motivation for use; and user demographics.
Sociologists, historians and others are now realizing that social phenomena (like environmental phenomena) are inherently complex. This means that we can't really know with certainty what the effects of our actions will be. Although this has always been the case, the realization is only now getting some traction. Moreover, many people — if not most — still seem to deny its reality and think and act according to older paradigms. Accepting its reality does not mean of course that we don't know anything or that anything can happen, What is different now is the increased speed, reach, and influence of the mobility. Imagine a missile latching on to the frequency of a cell phone or myriad consequences of remote observation, sensing, and surveillance. On a larger scale, consider the vulnerability or volatility of a complex physical, social, or technological environment where critical limits or "tipping points" in many important areas are likely to be breached at the same time.
While much of our time in the future will certainly be spent trying to repulse the efforts of people who will use (and attempt to use) Mobile Intelligence to increase their dominance over others, one of the main points of this pattern is to encourage the exploration of positive possibilities that the new technology opens up. One such area is in the realm of emergency communications. What difference could it make in a situation like the Chernobyl disaster or Hurricane Katrina? We could also gather data about dangerous conditions — speed of cars, air or water quality, radioactivity and other mobile phenomena.
We can think of Mobile Intelligence in at least three ways: (1) intelligence about a variety of mobilities; (2) intelligence that can be used in different situations (where the intelligence itself is mobile or "portable"); and, (3), mobile intelligence that moves us forward; in other words the intelligence mobilizes people. As researchers, activists and citizens, we can consciously ask about the "mobility" of our intelligences — and reconceptualize them as necessary.
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We can't think or act intelligently in relation to the world if we think statically. The problem is that we think that things change, one-at-a-time when things are constantly in flux. The answer changes while you're still trying to understand the question. One of the main points of Mobile Intelligence is encouraging positive possibilities that the new technology opens up, such as emergency communications.
When separate groups work on social issues without learning of what similar groups are doing on related issues, opportunities for idea exchange are lost. Historically it has been difficult to bring diverse groups together to discuss and mobilize on social issues of shared concern. Worse, groups that arguably should be working together, have a tendency to argue fiercely over philosophical or other points of disagreement thus making collaboration nearly impossible.
There are many groups, in many localities, addressing many issues and themes that are related to global social issues. This pattern helps to promote coordination among these not-so-disparate groups. Often, people at the grassroots level have a better understanding of issues, especially those that have an immediate effect on their local areas. At the same time, many issues that play out at the local level also have a global context.
The World Social Forum is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neoliberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among Humankind and between it and the Earth. &mdash Principle 1, World Social Forum Charter of Principles
By offering a "big tent" setting such as the World Social Forum (WSF) where these groups can come together, synergy can happen and solutions to social programs can be developed. The basic idea is that the Social Forums, like parties or conferences or other gatherings, provide an occasion for people of similar interests to get together. What people choose to do with the information is ultimately a decision that they will make. But, by the same token, the forums do what they can to make the events successful in the sense of spawning collaborative and collective actions and projects without heavy-handed "social engineering." The Big Tent pattern encourages other smaller tents (with, for example, regional or thematic focus) to form within the event and these "smaller tents" can ultimately provide issue and geographical "space" to support the work of additional groups with other forums.
The big tent scale of the World Social Forum and the growth (starting with 20,000 in 2001 and up to 100,000 in 2005) has helped foster respect from mainstream media and other entities that may be seen as oppositional to the Forum principles, as it demonstrates that this is real, and there are large numbers of people and organizations that are committed to working on these issues. Another positive attribute of this pattern of a large gathering of many social issue groups for mobilization is that the scale is big enough that individuals can participate and be somewhat anonymous, which can reduce the pressure to represent a certain group ideology and allow more freedom to express alternatives, to listen and to learn.
Conceived as an counterforce to the elite World Economic Forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland, the World Social Forum picks up where the 1999 demonstrations against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle left off by providing the setting for activists to create alternatives to corporate dominance. The economic agenda was not the only issue discussed at the World Social Forum when it was held in Mumbai, India in 2004. Government repression (in Burma, for example) was examined in workshops and demonstrations as was discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation or caste. The presence of Dalits, the "untouchables" at the bottom of India's elaborate (and technically illegal) caste system, was a reminder that basic human rights are far from universal. Regional issues like so-called "honor killings" and dowry practices were also discussed as were the rights of children. Jabala, a group that works with children in red light districts led a rally with the chant: "Aloo becho, machchi becho, par bachchon ko mat becho" ("sell potatoes, sell fish but don't sell children"). Thousands of children are inducted into the sex industry every year.
Throughout the four day gathering, labor groups, human rights advocates, antiwar campaigners and many others conducted boisterous processions accompanied by dancing, sign-brandishing, and drumming. Along with rallies, films, and photography exhibits, delegates had organized scores of workshops, seminars, information sharing sessions and debates. Delegates from over 130 countries discussed strategies, areas of mutual concerns and opportunities for collaborations based on newly discovered linkages between issues.
We have used the World Social Forum as the main example of this pattern because it is the most prominent meeting of this type in the world. It has shown itself to be replicable — at least so far — in its totality as a World Social Forum, but, also, in a variety of constituent regional and thematic fora. Although not all "big tents" are required to adopt the tenets of the World Social Forum, two of its principles may be useful if you are considering the idea of convening Big Tent events.
The first principle is that the Forum is an "open meeting place" or agora where issues are raised, not necessarily deliberated or used to directly plan actions. The second principle is that power is not intended to reside within the organizational structure of the WSF. The governing body of the WSF, for example, is prohibited from making statements in the name of the WSF. Also, the original "Charter of Principles states that the WSF "does not constitute a locus of power to be disputed by participants in its meetings." While both of these ideas are designed to forestall certain problems, they ironically raise other types of challenges or tensions within the WSF community. One of these is related to action vs. talk orientation, with the action-oriented people saying that after seven years it is now time for an action agenda. Another objection is related to participation vs. elitism. Although most events are organized by participants, some plenary events are generally convened and these are likely to populated by "star" activists.
One certainly has a better understanding of the enormity of the world's problems after attending a "big tent" event like the World Social Forum. On the other hand, one cannot help but feel some cautious optimism as well. Airing the problems of the world with dedicated people who are working to create "another world" is a necessary step in the solution of these problems.
Bringing groups together in a big tent where a multiplicity of perspectives is encouraged allows more opportunities for discussion of solutions to social problems and sharing of ideas that help other groups working on the same or similar issues.
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When groups work on social issues without learning what other groups are doing, opportunities for cooperation are lost. Worse, groups that should be working together sometimes argue over fine points. Bringing groups together in a Big Tent event like the World Social Forum fosters better understanding of the enormity of the world’s problems. It can also encourage collaboration and cautious optimism.
At any given time, there are a few issues that are receiving "public attention." These issues change dramatically from day to day offering the public very little time to actually think about one issue, before another one takes its place. In addition to the manic novelty, the stories offer little real information, especially about alternatives or opportunities for public involvement. Even the "news" is entertainment. In the US (and other places) the "market" is credited / blamed for "giving the people what they want." Thus while television and other commercial media stupefies people, the owners merely shrug their shoulders and say that they're just giving people what they want. This turns out often to be grisly murders, cheesy voyeurism, celebrity romance (or, better, divorce), and advertisements, advertisements, advertisements. In less "free" societies, the governing elites make all decisions about what is news and guess what governmental misdeeds aren't news. Who decides what issues are important, what issues are on the public agenda?
If the public agenda is simply the set of issues that people happen to have in their heads at any given time then we can say that a "public agenda" exists. If the public agenda consists of issues that ought to be considered in a public way, particularly how does society use our limited resources and what is truly important, then the public agenda is a far cry from it could be.
During a 1999 interview on the local Seattle public radio affiliate, a woman who was involved in the demonstrations against the World Trade Organization in Seattle was asked "why it was necessary to break glass" to get the issues on the public agenda. She first mentioned that she and her colleagues had been trying unsuccessfully to get these issues on the public agenda for a decade and that she was opposed to using violence against people or property. She went on to say, however, that one couldn't help but notice that after windows were smashed in Seattle the media, pundits and others seemed to acknowledge the issues more readily — at least for a week or so. Hence we make the argument here that "It shouldn't be necessary to break glass" for citizens and citizen groups to get a public airing for the issues that they feel are important.
Where do the "pictures in our heads" (Lippman, 1921) and the issues that we're contemplating at the moment come from? Certainly we are all "free" to come up with something that's all our own but this is not likely to be commonplace. When we see something, something else in our mind is triggered. We may interpret the information in our particular way but the new information is the driver — not something else. At any rate, it's not the idiosyncratic and disconnected thought that's important, it's the focused, diverse, engaged and thoughtful collective mind that democracy requires. The sounds and the images that the big electronic billboard, always there and always on, holds aloft for the world to view will obviously garner more attention ("mind share") than something with less visibility — which, of course, is everything else. The press as Bernard Cohen points out, "may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling it's readers what to think about"
Maxwell McCombs' and Donald Shaw's paper on "The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media" (1972) brought the notion that the mass media is instrumental to agenda-setting to prominence. This paper demonstrated that the public's answers to the perennial Gallup Poll question "What is the most important problem facing this country today?" could be predicted quite clearly by looking at the news as presented by the newspapers, network television news, and news magazines that were available at that time in the month prior to the poll. In a more recent paper, McCombs reported that since the original article, "more than 300 published studies worldwide have documented this influence of the news media."
Now, some 35 years after the original publication, the media landscape has changed considerably. People (at least in the U.S.) have more choices and many apparently "choose" to be ill-informed. The mass media with its collage of seemingly random information about movie start divorces, dog food, genocide, game shows, laugh tracks, mass starvation, cell phones, climate change, "shock jocks", trailer fires, bus plunges, talking heads, celebrity chit-chat, invasions may be actually doing more to muddle than to inform.
The Internet, however, is currently providing an interesting challenge to the hegemony of the mass media. Community networks and Indymedia showed glimpses that other ways of producing and consuming news were possible. The explosion of blogs of every type is the latest salvo along these lines. In fact, as of the end of the 2003, 2/3 of the blogs were political (Delwiche, 2005). The blogging phenomenon suggests many things including the blurring of the division between producers and consumers of journalism and the continuing fragmentation of journalism roles and venues. Some of the more interesting questions, recently explored by Aaron Delwiche (2005), are whether the blogs are — or can be — agenda-setters in their own right and whether they can serve as a tonic and an alternative to their mass-produced forbearers.
It would be naive to think the mass media will provide citizens with the information that they need without pressure from the citizenry. They'll say first that their first responsibility is their stockholders. We must remember that just because something is mentioned in the mass media doesn't mean that it's irrelevant and vapid. Although the previous statement was made with tongue in cheek, there is certainly a danger (as well as a temptation) to disregard all mass media. The realization that traditional (mass) media is ready and willing (and generally capable) of diverting attention from the important to the superfluous is a significant first step but it's just a start. Monitoring the media systems, constructing a broad and compelling alternative agenda must be an ongoing enterprise.
We need to think about what belongs on the public agenda and what we can do to put it there and keep it there. This may mean working in opposition to — and in cooperation with — existing media systems. It must certainly involve developing diverse and specialized "public agendas" including ones related to research as Carolyn Raffensperger and her colleagues advise (1999).
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The issues receiving "public attention" change dramatically from day to day giving us little time to actually think about one issue, before another takes its place. Who decides what issues are important, what issues are on the public agenda? The public agenda ought to be more than the set of issues that people have in their heads at any given time. We need to think about what issues belong on the Public Agenda and what we can do to put those issues there and keep them there.
Societys 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 decisionmaking the systematic integration of earths vital signs.
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.
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 earths 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 Africas 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.
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.
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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.
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.
Perceived physiological and cultural differences are easily exploited by political elites for the purpose of gaining and maintaining social control. Discrimination and violence are a common consequence of perceiving one group of people as less trustworthy, moral, intelligent, or civilized (and ultimately less human) than another group. Imbalances of power are seen as reflections of individual strength and cultural merit rather than systemic injustice. Efforts toward creating a desirable society continue to be hindered by unquestioned privilege, fear, and prejudice across race, caste, and ethnic divisions.
There are few cultures in the world that have not been affected in some way by European concepts of race. In some cases, European colonizers layered race on top of long- standing caste hierarchies or religious prejudices to further subjugate, divide, and control colonized people. In the United States, alliances between blacks and poor whites, for example, were intentionally subverted by elites who bestowed minimal advantages on lower-class whites to prevent class-based uprisings. The historical legacy of long-maintained racial divides and inequalities continues to affect any organization attempting to create a more just and sustainable society, even when racism is not the primary issue that an organization or movement wants to address. As with gender divisions, race, caste, and class hierarchies often intertwine to erode the effectiveness of organizations and their communication, especially when patterns of privilege and bias go unnoticed.
This pattern has two major dimensions: Anti-Racist Awareness and Anti-racist Action.
Awareness begins with seeking a deeper understanding of the multiple ways that racism and race privilege operate in the lives of individuals and organizations. Anti-racist books, movies, workshops, lectures, discussions, and observation can all be useful tools for raising awareness. Multi-cultural history books (e.g., "A Different Mirror") or social/economic analysis (e.g., "Black Wealth White Wealth") can help us see beyond the myth of the melting pot, and understand how social structures maintain racial inequity generation after generation. Films like "Banking on Life and Debt" help us understand the international forces that maintain global inequalities built upon European Colonialism, and how those inequities reinforce domestic racism. Reflective essays like "White Privilege and Male Privilege" can help us see how privileges are bestowed upon whites on a daily basis, even when they do not seek racial advantage.
By analyzing social and historical dynamics of power and privilege, we understand why few people reach adulthood without internalizing social hierarchies that shape our unconscious perceptions of one another. At the same time it is important to become more aware of the possibilities for change and resistance. We must learn about the successes of communities of color that have struggled against racism, and we must learn about inter-racial solidarity that has aided anti-racist efforts at numerous times and places in history.
Armed with a better awareness of the dynamics of racism, members of an organization can become more reflective about their own practices. Developing and maintaining an anti-racist consciousness is an on-going process for most people, but it is especially challenging for members of dominant racial groups. Because information and communication represented in the dominant culture are likely to reinforce the racial status quo, whites in the U.S., for example, must take extra care to seek the perspectives of people of color who are critical of mainstream policy, discourse, and ideology.
Action begins with recognition that we are not powerless in the face of institutionalized or interpersonal racism, and that challenging racism is both an individual and collective responsibility. Examples of anti-racist action are plentiful --from individuals interrupting racist jokes to transnational organizations uniting against contemporary colonialism.
An anti-racist orientation can help guide many facets of an organization: out-reach practices, service providing, hiring, resource allocation, group communication, etc. With an anti-racist perspective, individuals can work to create organizations that both embrace ethnic diversity and model a commitment to racial justice. Organizations whose members are primarily from privileged communities can seek guidance from leaders that represent grassroots organizations in other communities. Groups can form alliances across racial or national boundaries making shared use of differing access to information, experiential knowledge, economic resources, and political power.
Organizations can promote anti-racist solidarity by investigating the racial dimensions of any issues that they are working on. For example, anti-racist environmentalists have exposed the disproportionate effects of toxic waste on communities of color. Information technology activists interested in racial justice have designed projects to accomodate differing needs in differing ethnic communities. Within the anti-war and anti-globalization movements, activists with an anti-racist orientation have drawn attention to the role that racist discourse and ideology play in maintaining public support for international policy.
The greatest challenge to anti-racism is the discomfort, defensiveness, and animosity that it often engenders among whites (or other racially privileged groupsdepending on the context). Rejection often happens when individuals from privileged groups do not see themselves as responsible, in any way, for the conditions that other racial groups experience. Talking about race privilege and unconscious racial biases can seriously threaten peoples positive sense of self. Many people are more comfortable believing that innate characteristics of racial groups cause the problems or successes that each groups experience, and some people even perceive themselves to be discriminated against when members of other racial groups demand social change to alleviate injustices. Whites who are economically disadvantaged, (or who experience discrimination related to age, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, or other characteristic), sometimes see anti-racism as a denial of their own hardships. In extreme cases, oppressed whites may react so negatively to anti-racist critiques that they turn toward white supremacist or neo-nationalist ideologies to shore-up their low self-esteem (see Paul Gilroy for a critique of British anti-racist education of working class youth). People of color also sometimes oppose anti-racist perspectives when they have been convinced by the dominant culture that racism is no longer a significant, institutionalized problem. For people of color, becoming more aware of racism can be particularly painful and disempowering.
In order to be successful, anti-racists must recognize the strength of dominant racial attitudes and ideology. Anti-racist education and discourse should be geared toward the forms of denial and dismissal that are most common in a particular context. Educational activities should include follow-up support to help people process new, sometimes disturbing, ways of seeing the world. Resources that put a human face on the experience of racial oppression can be particularly useful. Focusing on the shared costs of racism (and the shared benefits of ending it) may be the best way to encourage inter-racial solidarity. When both whites and people of color recognize that ending racism is in their interests, they begin to see themselves as part of the long history of resistance to racism. This sense of solidarity across time and racial boundaries adds meaning and a sense of hope to the difficult, and sometimes emotionally painful, process of recognizing and challenging race privilege and racism.
Only by recognizing racism (personal and institutional) and actively challenging it, can we hope to overcome the racial divisions that inhibit effective problem solving and weaken progressive movements. An anti-racist orientation to social change can help organizations successfully challenge policies and practices that mask power, exploitation, and resource grabbing behind the guise of liberal individualism and national interests.
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Efforts to create desirable societies are hindered by privilege, fear, and prejudice across race, caste, and ethnic divisions. As with gender divisions, race, caste, and class hierarchies often intertwine to erode the effectiveness of organizations. Anti-Racism has two dimensions: Anti-Racism through awareness and Anti-Racism through action. An anti-racist orientation to social change can help organizations challenge policies and practices that mask power, exploitation, and resource grabbing.