Tunisia, Egypt and Sustainability

02 Feb 2011

What has the people's revolutions of Tunisia, Egypt and, I expect shortly, a number of other Arab countries got to do with sustainability? Plenty - and it's a classic case of the inextricable linkages between our environment, our societies and our economies.

Surging food prices since the summer - the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports their global food index has passed it's all time high of 2008 - and a Tunisian street vendor setting fire to himself 6 weeks ago may not be the underlying causes of the present revolts. But they have lit a fuse with far reaching implications, not just for the Middle East but for the World.

Whilst Kuwait gives each of its citizens a sum of USD 2500 as a "goodwill" gesture, vulnerable governments such as Algeria, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and suchlike frantically purchase most of the World's grain supplies in order to placate their peoples. The IMF warns that growing inequalities threatens increased instabilities and even civil war. More food crisis's loom. More regimes will likely fall.

All sobering stuff, but the underlying causes remain untackled - the unsustainable rise in global population of 73m a year; dietary changes in Asia as rising wealth results in large scale increase to animal-protein diets - requiring 7 kilos of grain to produce 1 kilo of meat; the loss of farmland to Asia's growth; the decline in grain yields from climate related effects; the growing gulf between rich and poor nations and so on. Food shortages can't be tackled without looking at these and other fundamental issues encompassing the three plinths of economy, society and the environment.

The good news? It may look pessimistic but we are, I believe, entering a new age of enlightenment and awareness. An age where environmental and social problems respect no country boundaries and thus force unprecedented co-operation between nations. Where behaviour and actions that were once left mutely unchallenged are no longer acceptable and slowly confined to history. Where social media forces authoritarian regimes to either listen or fall. 

It may take some tine, but it will come. Eventually. 

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