WICKED PROBLEMS?…wicked cool responses.

World Environment Day, 2017…of nature, a changing climate, etc.

World Environment Day 2017 was observed June 5 and it was an especially poignant one especially with the decision of the US President to withdraw from the Paris Agreement…a decision which may or may not have deleterious consequences. The ultimate outcomes will be dependent on collective global and individual national actions. Some of the individual actions championed by UNEP were to use social media to share some of your favourite spots out in nature using #withnature and /or #worldenvironmentday as well as write poetry of the haiku format as well as to participate in collective actions such as running for a cause, demonstrations and marches. The UN Secretary General implores us in the WED speech to ‘cherish the planet that protects us.’  It is therefore important that we keep attention on the issues affecting our environment so that we may organize and holistically devise tangible and effective solutions. The changing climate is an ever present danger especially to small island developing states (SIDs). It is also of significance that the Ocean Conference is currently underway in UN New York HQ during June 5-9, 2017. The significance is not lost on this islander, being acutely aware that one of the deleterious impacts of a changing climate on SIDs is a rise in sea level which may result in the complete erosion of some small islands.

World Environment Day, 2017…The sky is burning!

When we are unable to pin point and directly, explicitly determine categories for a set of issues and situations that beset the society we have to formulate and conceptualize some form of categorization. WICKED PROBLEMS is one such that was coined and is used to describe problems for which no agreed upon solution is identifiable.  Environmental challenges (such as over-consumption, waste and climate change) are sometimes referred to as ‘wicked problems.’ These problems are complex and they have many causes and dependent factors influencing each other, making it difficult to target the linkages of the causal factors. In other words with wicked problems it is difficult to really know the exact problem. Subsequently, the attendant interventions will be, in the main, ever changing, meandering processes.

One of the wicked problems that impact me on both the personal and professional levels is the matter of air pollution. Air pollution is a major environmental problem. There is a comingling of factors which have contributed to this issue. Using my local context some factors are the indiscriminate burning of solid waste, the ever present combustion of waste at unsanitary landfills located in close proximity to many residential communities and the transfer of particulate matter in the air due to the burning of charcoal in and around the peri-urban areas. The above mentioned sources may not be conclusive and as such approaching the problem with a view to resolving the matter becomes a complex endeavour….What a wicked problem indeed!

Wicked, cool solutions!….Time to get innovative and think differently.

As a Sustainable Urban Development practitioner I see many opportunities and scope for mitigative strategies. As it pertains to solid waste management- within the context of small islands SWM must be addressed from the local (household) level with the separation of the waste at source. In addition, to bring about a behaviour change aimed at reducing the burning of SWM at the community level enforcement is needed for the prosecution of those who burn waste at the household level. There should be an accompanying reward system for those who inform on the community members who are involved in these activities. (The policing by community is one of the integral ways in which the protection of air quality at the local level can be achieved). However, as it pertains to the removal of trees and their use for the burning of charcoal, there is a viable alternative to this undertaking. Bamboo…

Considered ‘green gold’ this grass is such a versatile natural resource. This resource has many benefits among which are usefulness for environmental conservation and climate change mitigation. It is researched on so many levels and in fact what is revealed in the past days is that Jamaica has been integrally involved in the development of this sector in various ways. At the international level the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) which is headquartered in Beijing, China celebrates its 20th year of existence in 2017 having being established in 1997. Jamaica currently chairs this organization (2015-2017). We are also members of one of its task force. At the local level the national focal point is vested in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries (MICAF). Several groupings of Jamaican government officials and technical personnel of various sectors have been and are also currently been trained in Beijing. The main objectives include, but are not limited to (a) to increase technical capacity; (b) reform knowledge and (c) institute methodological processes. The overall aim is to formalize a multi-stakeholder bamboo industry. It is to be noted that as it pertains to standards, Jamaica through the national standards entity- Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) has adapted the following standards pictured below.

Many uses of bamboo

This will be treated in some detail in a later post but in summary bamboo has many uses some of which include:

  • Edibles and pharmaceuticals,
  • Furniture making, and
  • Construction

Jamaica is exploring five (5) value chains:

  1. Bamboo charcoal
  2. Bamboo shoots
  3. Bamboo plywood
  4. Bamboo edible
  5. Bamboo Nutraceuticals

 

There is a push by the Government of Jamaica (GoJ) to develop a bamboo policy to help to improve (a) local economies; (b) alleviate poverty and (c) protect the environment. The long term vision is that there will be a strengthening of capacity to increase production in rural areas to bring to the urban areas and ultimately to contribute to the GDP as it is developed for the export market.

To achieve the development and in fact sustainable development of this sector will involve a cadre of sector personnel who will see the vision and who will commit to and fervently work to make it a reality. Wouldn’t that be wicked cool!

‘Evolving Intelligence’

I recently, while channel surfing, came across the movie ‘Simone’ starring Al Pacino. What had seemed like a harmless, frivolous quasi- science fiction movie- when I watched it during its first release- had now become an insidiously reflective modern dramatic representation of the reality of artificial intelligence. Further I was led to also reflect on the covert ways in which false narratives have infiltrated our mass media and by extension our minds’ spaces. A pattern is emerging that we need to be aware of in mass media. This pattern can be framed in a question which is- Is it just me or when there are some real serious and earth life threatening events that something- seemingly innocuous- emerges that operates as a side event and/or deliberate distraction. …I am just saying. For example the numerous and questionable killings of black males in the USA vs. Pokemon, Mannequin, etc challenges.

2016 was a watershed year. A lot of societal and value system changing events took place and may have occurred undetected by the masses. It was a pivotal year for Mother Earth and her inhabitants. Just like the discussion around climate change, i.e. is it real or not? There were so many other crises for which real needed attention and resolutions were being derailed by rhetoric. We are in an age of constant ‘clear and present danger,’ environmentally, socially and politically. This requires global consciousness.

The average man cannot afford to be average anymore. We must be (not become) sober. (There is no time for a learning curve). 2017 is the year! This is the year that will set the tone for ….well everything. Our senses, our knowledge, our intelligence should evolve. We should all, as much as possible, dig deeper. Seek clarification. Be more discernible. Determine one’s core belief system. Be resolute. Evolve.

Youths, crime, International Day of Non-violence and so forth

Sunday, October 2, 2016 was commemorated as International Day of Non-violence; October 2 is also the birth date for the Indian Civil Rights Leader Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948). This leader, similar to the American Martin Luther King, chose the non-violent approach while living in tumultuous times in their respective countries.It must not have been easy, due to the harsh and challenging socio-economic climate, for these men to literally take the road less traveled. I am sure there were moments when they must have thought twice, even if they did not falter, that perhaps striking back would serve them better. Fortunately for many, including some of subsequent generations, these examples exist that non-violent solutions are viable options which achieve results as much as (and some may argue) even more than other means or approaches.

In light of this commemoration I cannot help but reflect on some of the current affairs of the world-the war in Syria (causing the deluge of displaced peoples and resultant regugee crisis); the number (and nature) of police killings in the United States of America and the violent murders in my own country, particularly in the second city (gravely concerned as a Sustainable Urban Development Planner). It is worrisome to think about the headlines, soundbites, television images and read the details of gruesome and sometimes senseless deaths. I am often led to wonder could there have not been another way? Another alternative not resulting in war and loss of lives?

Crime, Loss of lives and unattached youths 

In Jamaica it is not a national war that is accounting for loss of lives per se, however a persistent crime problem confoundingly  does. Nationally, there are concerns as current indicators used to gauge the extent of the problem, crime statistics in all major categories, exceed past values in similar categories. The authorities and well meaning stakeholders organize and attempt to draft solutions and with resolute aims implement programmes to eradicate crime. Popularly known as crime fighting strategies, all these efforts may continue to have frustratingly limited impact as the root causes still fester.

Taking the bull by the proverbial horn

Poverty and Inequality

In my years working in the different capacities at the local government level, I have often interacted with unattached youths in local communities. I have sat ‘pon di corna’ with well educated young men who had the best high school education but post graduation have found themselves unemployed and /or unable to advance in study. I often remember a very articulate young man who resided off Maxfield Avenue, an inner city community in the capital city and a young woman who reside in an informal community in Montego Bay who were in such a situation. Their addresses have been postulated as the limiting factor. However I strongly believe that poverty is inextricably the underlying and root cause. Poverty through the generations, more specifically, have trapped entire cohorts of the population into a viscous cycle which have results in criminal and illicit undertaking out of [mis]opportunity and desperation. Bills are due every 28 days, hunger pangs every day, babies teary eyes pleadingly look to adult care-givers and the human desire for a particular standard of life yearns within. This position is not a cop-out or excuse to pardon criminals rather it intended as an honest look at the real cause-effect resultant crime problem.

                                                                                                                            Image credit: Photobucket.

Many studies exist providing arguments regarding the correlation between crime and poverty. Take a quick read of Enhancing Urban Safety and Security: Global Report on Human Settlements 2012 prepared by the United Nations HABITAT. Baker (1997) also gives some good comparative information in, Poverty Reduction and Human Development in the Caribbean: A cross country study. It is an obvious imperative that strategies for crime prevention should include poverty reduction and eradication at its core. However, as those in the thick of crime fighting will tell you -THAT though the rub- is easier said than done. Similarly many external stakeholders, including scholars, will posit that the approaches have been primarily crime management strategies.This would then transmit that there is an egregious gap in resolving the crime challenge. Therefore it is time- in a focused, strategized and determined manner – to address the inequalities wrought by poverty. It is through these inequalities that the sleeper cell-like conditions  foster and eventually unleash the purveyors of criminal and illicit activities.

Inequality indicators- access to education, malnutrition and attainment

The extent to which access to education impacts attainment can be measured against the income inequality index. Poorer parents are most unlikely to send their children to school on a consistent basis. Another indicator involves the rate of malnutrition in school age children (particularly at the basic and primary school levels) which is also linked to poverty and inequality. So the odds are stacked high for the youths and those incubated in poverty. However societies have proven to be highly resilient and many persons who lived their formative years in poor households have managed to persevere and rise above the odds. Fortunately there are numerous success stories across the globe to attest to this. However there are many variances. Thus what often obtains is a disquieting percentage of young people in the prime of their lives and in their most productive years essentially not being …well…productive.

Unattached youths …..and detachment

The classification of unattached youths arose from such meaning those –between the ages of 15-24 who are not in school, unemployed and not participating in any training programme. Dissecting and sifting through I want to focus on those within this category who would have completed a course of study up to the High School level. These are the ones I encounter in my community development work and who gravely concern me as they have encountered road blocks external to their control. Such as an unattached youth (especially if that individual followed the rules and norms of society) would have maintained self discipline in academia and concluded a course of study. Follow me now- he/she  would have been led to believe that he/she has an equal opportunity of acquiring employment based on at least  such attainment. In fact the education system inherently facilitates a leveling of the play field. And I could insert here several quotes on education as a way out, etc.

So with the High School education a young person,who incidentally may have plans for advance study, is often led to firstly enter the world of work. This is (a) to ease any burden from the family  for daily subsistence (b) to assist with the household income and (c) which is an addendum to (a) reduce the strain on the household income to provide for furtherance of this education. Therefore, and if you are following, it would be extremely  frustrating, that after several attempts and with a ticking clock, to find that you are prevented from accessing- at the most- an entry level employment…. because of your address. An address which due to the income level of your family that is where you reside. That was your home and the community you grew up in. An address where despite the odds you had daily traversed and  excelled. An address from which you have navigated many obstacles (physically) during volatile periods of uprising; the (social) malaise of those others who ridiculed and tried to discourage you from trying so hard and the (economic) pressing through the hunger pangs and working harder with less resources.

If you are getting the picture then it is not challenging to make some obvious inferences.

The high sophistication of criminal activities which exist in organic settings must be one.For example there is intelligence and ingenuity in some of the reported crime activities which seems humorous at first but leaves a lingering sense of unease. I remember that young man on the corner, off Maxfield Avenue, and from our conversation back then which showcased his brilliant mind, I prayed he was able to become attached …I envision him as an upstanding member of the society with the requisite means of formal employment after attaining advance studies- he was so smart you see. I envision that by now he is married and in my minds eye I see him carpooling his children and their friends between home (in a community above the Half Way Tree clock perhaps or beyond) and school…I pray…

Otherwise I can affix his face to the faceless criminal capable of scamming people out of their hard earned money. I can affix his face to a hardened murderer who has become so detached that he can killed more than once. I can affix his face to one so vile that the cries of a child in a burning home, in the early hours of the morning does not unsettle his nerves. I can affix his face to an errand boy or lackey for a Don charged with disposing a teenage girl’s body in a suitcase and dumping it into the ocean, or burning it in a garbage skip….I can image any of those things.

But I chose not to … I hope that as I write this that young man is stuck in traffic on his way from work, his only frustration being how quickly he can pick up the kids and get home in time to watch the nightly news. A thing he does as he works to create opportunities for young men and unattached youths in poor communities who need a way out.

 

International day of Democracy…late post

September 15, 2016- International Day of Democracy.

This is an interesting commemoration….I tend to believe that certain things are to be intrinsically valued by all, such that there is no need for external reminders but oh well…

There will be a lot of reflections , I suppose, on this thing called democracy today. International agencies such as the UN, multi-laterals and nations on the local level and dare I say by individuals. I posit that fundamental to this reflection on democracy should be the whole notion of FREEDOM. On a point of order I want to just insert the following as a food for thought.

Freedom and democracy are often used interchangeably, [but are thought of as not] synonymous. Democracy is indeed a set of ideas and principles about freedom, but it also consists of a set of practices and procedures that have been molded through a long, often tortuous history. In short, democracy is the institutionalization of freedom. For this reason, it is possible to identify the time-tested fundamentals of constitutional government, human rights, and equality before the law that any society must possess to be properly called democratic.

Source: https://www.ait.org.tw/infousa/zhtw/docs/whatsdem/whatdm2.htm

I want to use a recent event to examine the question- Are we free? Is there freedom of speech?Indeed are these not hallmarks of democracy?… If not what are some other cogent indicators …Are current systems, institutions and procedures democratically administered when questions can’t be asked and responses respectfully forthcoming?

The lens through which to make a brief examination – Resulting from a recent road accident, I have been without a personal mode of transit and instead have returned and taken to the public transportation…once again. You see I am totally all for public mass transit but that’s another entry. This day in particular I was travelling on an express, premium bus, en route home with my child…With such options as ‘express’ and ‘premium’ how can you not be impressed? Anyhoo, I digress…lol. At  a particular junction a very tall and stout woman boarded the bus and announced that she is here to inspect the tickets. She wore a bright yellow top with the clearly, identifying logo, etc. So for those who are not visually impaired and who are beyond functional literacy we could read and determine what she was about…mind you this was really what we had to do…because there was not much more by way of explanation.

I pause here because (1) I took offense to her entry and approach and (2) as a fairly new comer to the system I was, quite frankly, surprised and immediately mentally searched my mind as to where I would locate my ticket.I was not informed by anyone or saw said reminder anywhere that I should retain my ticket. I initially also panicked as based on her imposing stature I wondered what would happen if I did not find this daggone ticket before she got to me. However, whilst all this mental gymnastics was happening to me I heard a male voice to my rear right ask, ‘why do you want to see the ticket?’…good question right?…wellll here was the response…’well Sir you better make sure you have it.’….OMG….WTH!

I was looking quite spiffy that day, midnight black shades and all, but I was livid to the point where my words went ahead of my thoughts and out came, ‘but this woman is not professional, the man has a right to know.’ My son who almost always is embarrassed by me when I publicly defend anything nodged me with his knee (he was standing over me having previously risen and given his seat to a female). As I gave him the obligatory look, he in turn obliged with that warning look, which translated loudly into- DO.NOT.EMBARASS.ME. Well because he had to take the bus more than I, this time, I let it slide. But I was still steaming. So I made a public show of , where is MY ticket. I earned a brief stare of disgust from the [lady] Inspector and some side eyes from a few passenger standing in the immediate vicinity… by now the woman had ‘efficiently’ made her way to the back…no doubt spurred on by the thrill of the fight…saddling up and being ‘ready for this man.’

Of course she eventually got there and the man was insistent on why she needed to see the ticket, she demanded same, grudgingly reeling off the now obvious, ‘its part of my job’ line….The man (who by the way was still in his right) said ‘yes well its all well and good but answer me this- How would I get all the way into and way down the back of the bus, without first having paid at entry at the front door?’…another good question and if I may add a damn good one too!!!!…my son’s knee seemed to press harder into my shoulder here … Also by this time and in that split moment other passengers started to get angry but…at the man! especially when the lady Inspector, in her now booming voice directed the bus driver, to ‘stop the bus’ and let her call for the police to come and take this man off the bus. The man held his ground and even as the passenger next to him tried to placate him and explain that, ‘if he was travelling to the states’…I slapped my head and wondered mentally, ‘oh here we go.’…(the woman passenger continues)…’yes so when you travel and they ask you to show them your ticket, don’t you doit!?…well den is so it go ere so..same way, same thing!?’…as I thought out loud RUBBISH, my valiant male comrade lambasted her and shut her down with, ‘lady stop talk to me please because it is certainly not the same thing here, so stop telling me about when you travel!’

YEASSSSSSS!!!!!! Checkmate my good Sir!…..this post is getting too long so ‘to make a long story short’ ….always loved that phrase…the man eventually stated that he was going to show ‘dis ooman’ his ticket but it was not because of ‘giving up any right’ but as an example of bringing to an end what she did wrong. Quite so!…People the takeaways are obvious but the main thing I want to highlight is that the simple act of that man asking his question and reiterating his position..is a fundamental freedom and right. We should not be afraid to question anything or for that manner question those in authority because guess what that is what democracy is supposedly about. Individual rights. Reciprocal accountability, etc.The fact that the lady Inspector approached the matter in the way she did is not surprising and is indicative of how those in authority operate. Sadly too these simple infringements are manifested tenfold in other aspects of society. The violation of an individual’s right to ask questions becomes the violation of an individual’s  right to equal opportunities, etc. Small things have the ability to become bigger one. The violation of an individual’s right to ask questions of one public servant becomes the violation of an individual’s right to question the whole public service. The violation of an individual’s right to question simple unjust procedures becomes the violation of larger injustices…the more things change, the more they remain the same. The institutionalization of freedom(democracy) is the sum total and collective rights of citizens as governments and governing systems are,after all-  for the people and by the people.