Ecological economics (or green economy) and ensuring environmental equity

What are the biggest or most noteworthy challenges that encompass the complex relationship between ecology and the drivers behind the modern economy? How can environmental equity also be considered and better accounted for in solutions related to climate conservation, sustainability, and the value of human capital within indigenous communities?

Lots to unpack here, but would appreciate any reactions, comments, and feedback to start a conversation!

Hi @AlexIp and @carlbozzuto - What are your thoughts on key challenges in achieving environmental equity?

Hi @Dianachaplin and @Adrixramos - Would love to hear your take on the key challenges in achieving environmental equity.

I posted an idea for a standardised, global, system for measuring and evaluating impact in the Normalising Green Tech topic.


Two key ideas for addressing/correcting environmental inequities (which have been noted by the Luskin Center for innovation (UCLA) are:

Energy efficiency ‘retro fits’ (for private, low-income residential housing*); this should include some type of subsidizing of solar (rooftop or yard) panel installation (for private, low-income residential homes)

Trade-in programs for inefficient (or less efficient) cars for cleaner/more efficient ones, or, car trade-in programs for public transportation vouchers (equal to the trade-in value of the car), assuming that a public transportation option(s) is/are available.

   *Lowering energy costs for low-income home owners allows these folks to stay in their 
    homes and thus maintain a degree of financial (ownership) equity (verses ushering a 
    majority of low-income folks into public housing, which they do not own, and
   consequently, hold equity in.

‘Environmental equity’ is integrally related to the subject of environmental justice. It is nearly a universal fact (in the U.S.) that the poorest urban neighborhoods are located in the most polluted areas of cities (this includes buried toxic waste dumps, not simply air pollution, which is a major concern). Even with poor rural communities, these tend to be situated near heavy industry and or heavily polluting industries (like mines, refineries, oil recovery and fracking wells, smelting operations, etc.) with local water resources (aquifers) often polluted, poisoned, or (if above ground, like rivers) unsafe for usage (e.g., fishing, recreation).

Lack of money/wealth (low value ownership and/or high debt) can be viewed as a proxy for lack of political power or participation (so, this means fewer or unenforced environmental protections), which translates into natural resource exploiting industries setting up their operations in or near these communities. In many ways, the ‘practice’ is predatory; it may simply be the ‘default’ practice due to neglect (social/political) and community ignorance (which can be manipulated, e.g., via industrial propaganda) but there are often intentional legal hurdles (like SLAPP practices by polluting businesses) and/or legislated environmental exemptions (like chemical constituent reporting exemptions for fracking ‘brine’) that thwart enviro justice, and thus – through un-remediated environmental degradation – block environmental equity.

So, addressing environmental equity is no simple matter; it must be approached in a ‘multi-pronged’ manner; this often begins with a class action lawsuit or legal injunction ruling of some kind. This can be aided by effective political representation (at least at the local or sate level, to start).

As always, Law and Politics are the key instruments of change.


Hi @Janetlee, @yoedkenett and @Ashok - Curious to know if you have any inputs to share with us on the key challenges in achieving environmental equity.

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@Ananya_Roy, you may also have thoughts on this topic, given your experience working in disadvantaged communities.

I would encourage everyone to up-vote this topic if you think it’s a challenge we should push forward in the process and develop breakthroughs for in the next stage. Find the
“Vote” button to the left of the title at the top of the page!

I am a Civil Engineer and I think in that slot.
To me, it appears that We, the humans, DO NOT FOLLOW AND LEARN FROM NATURE, about our habitats. I have never seen any animal living or making a dwelling unit which is rectangular / made of straight lines. They are always curved and mostly on both axes. this makes them not only strong, wind resistant, but also allows a lot less material consumption, thereby reducing the energy consumption and helping the environment. Here, we do not have to change the mind set of people but only the behavior.
Is this within the line of X-prize?

Hi @ashokjain for sharing your thoughts. XPRIZE is more into solving problem technologically. I wanted to understand the barriers in achieving environmental equity. How do we reduce environmental risks across population groups and to our policy responses to these distributions.

I think generally this is true.

But there are exceptions: honey bees (Apis mellifera) build precise. regular hexagonal structures for rearing larvae. These linear ‘modules’ (‘honey combs’) are the basic building unit of the larger edifice (the hive).

As for mind set v. behavior…much (even most) of our behavior is ‘programmed’ neurologically (i.e., is based upon the activation of key neural pathways or ‘circuits’)…so, changing one’s ‘mind set’ is often the key factor in changing behavior.

What I see you really aiming for is an economy that (1) addresses the threat of global warming and (2) is ufficiently strong in providing the goods and services people want to achieve happiness while also able to keep global warming from again threatening our planet. emerges when we have successfully addressed global warming Shyam Saran, an Indian policy scientist probably put it best when he catigated the developed nations of Europe and Nprth America for demanding that the developing nations set aside theirf goal of developing their economies in order to fight globaal warming. At the same time he said he wanted the help of the develiped nations via a global dtechnology platform to fight global warming while the developing nations grew their economy. This is fundamentally what I see you also trying to do. And I think it is doable. I did a paper recently for a forthcoming encyclopedia on machine learning and data science advocating that western nations help the less affluent developing nations by sharing various planet friendly technologies. I used the example of how block chain once it is perfected could be valuable in helping Madagascar earn foreign exchange it badly needs for infrastructure development. Madagascar is a leading producer of vanilla, a flavoring agent with numerous applications and block chain could help to stabilize prices of vanilla which would allpw farmers to estimate how much they should grow of this crop. The farmers in turn could be encouraged to build homes using solar or other planet friendly energy sources to run their heating and cooling systems etc. There are many othe technoloigies that need to be widely disseminted such as aerotropoilises, innovative ways to desalinte water for agricultural and industrial purposes and so on.

If the aim is to eventually offer a prize, I would say that the technology we should be pushing to meet the green technology goal you are calling for would be a way to make concrete and/or blacktop comparable products that is less expensive (and less harmful to the planet because it does not release carbon into the atmosphere. I have absolutely no suggestions on how to go about making such a product since it is way above my knowledge of chemistry.

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Thank you for your interesting comment; yes, it generally is, but perhaps already a solution.
In our prize design process, we first comprehensively explore problems and barriers. So I’ll try and unpack some of the critical topics you cover, and maybe we can then think of the barriers. Indeed buildings are leading consumers of energy and emitters of emissions; this is particularly challenging given trends of population growth and urbanization, whereas infrastructure already fails to keep up with their growth, impacting the most vulnerable most. Another topic is resiliency, and this might be particularly relevant to SIDS - Small Island Developing States who are at the front line of increasing climate disaster risks and rising sea levels.

Having these challenges and others in mind, the structures and buildings surrounding us play a key role in environmental equity, but what are some of the barriers? You mention structural design and materials, are there any other barriers to more sustainable and resilient buildings? What would it take to implement such buildings considering the already existing infrastructure?

Let us make a Hemi spherical 10 ft high dwelling unit. The total surface area used to make this structure would be 942 sq ft.
And, the usable ground surface area would be 314 sq ft. Meaning thereby that we have to make 942/314= 3 sq ft of surface per sq ft of usable area.
Now, if we make a 10 ft high rectangular space with same usable area, its side would be 17.72 ft and the total surface area would be 1336 sq ft, i.e. 1336/314= 4.25 sq ft per sq ft usable area.

Thus, we have to spend about 40% more material.
And, that is not all.
A spherical surface has a much larger strength as compared to a straight plate and calls for a much less thickness.
This further reduces the consumption of material.

So, I was trying to point out that instead of straight line buildings, if we go towards curved buildings, we will save about 50% of material and ENERGY.


@ashokjain I understand your point, thanks for the useful metric (math always helps!).

I will only note that as materials science advances (and we develop smart metamaterials), we will be able to do more and more with less and less (avoiding, when necessary, the ‘geometry’ problem that you point out). This was predicted by R. Buckminster Fuller back in the 1980’s…He called it ‘ephemeralization’.

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