Measuring sustainability across scales

By Joseph J. Bailey (@josephjbailey), University of Nottingham, UK.

Sustainability, meeting present demands without degrading environments in such a way that we jeopardise their ability to meet the needs of future generations, has been a topic of interest for a great many years as the world’s environments are converted and degraded like never before. Here, I briefly discuss an article in Area, on quantifying global sustainability, alongside a recent sustainability assessment of the world’s fifty ‘most prominent cities’.

The recently-published ARCADIS Sustainable Cities Index has attracted much attention in global and national media outlets (e.g. National Geographic, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Gulf Times, and the Australian and US media). In the list of fifty, European cities performed well (the top three being Frankfurt, London, and Copenhagen; Manchester and Birmingham were in the top 20), with the relatively new metropolises of Asia-Pacific (not including Seoul, Hong Kong and Singapore, which did rather well), the Middle-East and Central and South America lagging far behind. The USA’s cities generally fell in the middle of the list. This index combined three sub-indices of ‘sustainability’: social (‘people’), environmental (‘planet’), and economic (‘profit’). Cities’ positions sometimes changed quite a lot between these sub-indices.

Alexandra Park, London Borough of Haringey. Source: unedited from flickr; author: Ewan Munro. Click on the photograph to see the original.

Alexandra Park, London Borough of Haringey. Source: unedited from flickr (original). Author credit: Ewan Munro.

Elsewhere, in Area, Phillips (2015) recently described a “quantitative approach to … global ecological sustainability”, identifying the importance of population density at this national scale. The ten least ‘ecologically sustainable’ countries in this study had very high population densities (these are: the UK, Italy, Belgium, Trinidad & Tobago, Japan, India, Lebanon, Israel, Netherlands, and Singapore). Of these ten that are considered as ‘economically developed’ countries, the combination of high population density, high standard of living, and high GDP are thought to have caused negative environmental impacts that affect people in the present and will affect people into the future. The ‘economically developing’ countries in the list are highlighted as being so because of socio-economic (India) and environmental (Trinidad & Tobago) reasons, and a combination of environment and political instability (Lebanon and Israel).

We therefore see some cross-scale spatial mismatches between these independent studies, whereby countries with purportedly sustainable cities (top 20) have been ranked amongst the least sustainable countries (e.g. UK [London, Manchester, Birmingham], Belgium [Brussels], Netherlands [Amsterdam, Rotterdam], and Singapore). This highlights the importance of spatial scale in sustainability science, and translating this through to planning and management. Indeed, very different approaches will be required between city authorities and national governments to ensure sustainability.

Both of the focal publications in this blog post strive to advance our understanding of ‘sustainability’ by quantifying this concept and its many components, from environmental and ecological, to social and economic. Both studies are global in scope, but the approach, data, and scales of analysis differ, with one focussing on fifty cities and the other on countries. The results, in combination, demonstrate the complexities of sustainability science, especially those regarding geographic scale. They show that quantifying and understanding sustainability across all spatial scales (towns > cities > landscapes > regions > countries > globally) is vital for future planning, targeting of resources, and understanding what we need to do not only for the people of today, but also for the people of the near and distant future.

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REFERENCES

books_icon Phillips, J. (2015). A quantitative approach to determine and evaluate the indicated level and nature of global ecological sustainability. Area, Early View. DOI: 10.1111/area.12174.

60-world2 ARCADIS (2015). Sustainability Cities Index. Available at: http://www.sustainablecitiesindex.com/.

Captive Bodies: Migrant kidnapping and deportation in Mexico

By Jeremy Slack, University of Texas, El Paso

The massacre of 43 students in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico in 2014, and before that the massacre of 72 migrants in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, have drawn attention to the tragedy of disappearances, mass murder and state/criminal collusion. Over the last eight years more than 22,000 disappearances have been registered in Mexico.  While theories abound, the question of what has been happening to these people and why remains unanswered. This tragedy quickly faded from international, and even national, debates about the cost of the war on drugs.

NGOs and activists dedicated to migrant’s rights, the freedom of information and uncovering stories behind this recent violence continue to press the issue. However, academics have had little to say on this topic. Why are migrants being kidnapped en masse? Is this purely about ransom, or are there other reasons to kidnap relatively poor individuals? My article, recently published in Area, uses data taken from interviews and surveys about deportees’ experiences of being kidnapped or held against their will. It takes seriously how people live through the policies and practices of a militarized U.S. Mexico border, and can help answer these questions.

Juanito*, a 21 year old from northern Mexico provides us with a little seen window into this horror. Agents from Grupos Beta, a migrant aid organization from the Mexican government, abducted him. As a deportee, they offered him a meal and half price bus ticket to his home, but in reality, they had other plans. They put a bag over his head and drove him and about 40 other people through the night. He was held for five months and subjected to torture, including sexual assault and electrocution. His family paid a $5,000 USD ransom but he was not released. No one was. Instead, they put him and the others to work, “cloning marijuana or packing it”. He explained that he was able to survive by being submissive. Those who got angry and fought back didn’t last.

Grupos Beta agents provide transportation for deportees in Nogales, Sonora. Photo Credit: Murphy Woodhouse

Grupos Beta agents provide transportation for deportees in Nogales, Sonora. Photo Credit: Murphy Woodhouse

Juanito’s case is an extreme one. However, surveys with 82 deportees who had been kidnapped reveal more questions than answers. Of these 82 surveys, 13 reported being let go and another ten escaped. Others were never asked for ransom. Some paid and were not let go. Only about half of them were freed after paying ransom. What does this tell us about the utility in taking control of people’s bodies? Moreover, why migrants? For Juanito it is the fact that they are out of place, dislocated from their homes, networks and support. He explained that if they were to do this to local residents, there would be a revolt.

It cannot be ignored that the practices and policies of the U.S. government place people in these situations. Deportation practices such as the lateral movement of people from one region of the border to another directly violate issues of non—refoulment, the provision that you cannot return people to a country when there is a threat of torture. Deportees are being actively funneled into the region best known for migrant massacres. Juanito was lucky to escape with his life. When asked what should be done in light of his horrific ordeal, he responded, ““More than anything, I want the [US] government to understand that it’s not necessary to be dropping people off, deporting them to all these places. It’s possible to find a city, where it’s safe” –  so that others will not suffer the same fate.

* Juanito is a pseudonym used to safeguard his identity.

About the author: Jeremy Slack obtained his PhD from the School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona and is currently a Visiting Assistant professor in the Sociology and Anthropology Department at the University of Texas, El Paso. Jeremy’s doctoral research explored the intersection of drug fuelled violence and undocumented migration on the U.S Mexico Border. He is also one of the Principal Investigators for a major project funded by the Ford Foundation to produce generalizable data about deportee’s experiences crossing the border. 

60-world2 Archibald R C 2010 Victims of massacre in Mexico said to be migrants New York Times 

60-world2 Lakhini N 2015 Students who survived Mexico’s night of bloody horror accuse army and police The Guardian 

60-world2 Servín F C 2014 Crítica, la situación de México por las desapariciones forzadas: ONU La Journada (in Spanish)

books_icon Slack, J. (2015), Captive bodies: migrant kidnapping and deportation in Mexico. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12151

Who lives, who dies, who cares?

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

Advances in healthcare technologies and pharmaceutical breakthroughs politicise and manipulate our lives.  An article in The Guardian last week describes how French doctors are challenging the patent of a new and highly expensive drug for hepatitis C in an attempt to bring down the price (the drug, Sofosbuvir, made by the pharmaceutical multinational Gilead Sciences, costs $1,000 (£650) a pill for a 10-week course).  It is a cure for the viral infection that can lead to liver cirrhosis, cancer and death.  The struggle against health inequality persists, with large numbers of people lacking access to healthcare.

A new biopolitical regime judges an individual’s ‘worth’ through their economic productivity

A new biopolitical regime judges an individual’s ‘worth’ through their economic productivity. Image credit: Elvert Xavier Barnes Photography via Wikimedia Commons.

Writing in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Emma Whyte Laurie’s article entitled, “Who lives, who dies, who cares? Valuing life through the disability-adjusted life year measurement” provides a critique of the disability-adjusted life year (DALY) measurement. The World Health Organization defines a DALY as one lost year of “healthy” life. It is a measure of overall disease burden, expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.  Emma Whyte Laurie argues that DALYs have ‘become normative because many health policy makers and their funding partners use the DALY as their only measure of disease impact in programmatic analysis’ (King and Bertino 2008, 2). DALYs have supported the emergence of an epoch in global health governance whereby resource allocation is justified on the premise of ‘cost-effectiveness’, ‘value for money’ and ‘good return for investment,’ and this is compounded with the global financial climate which has negatively impacted the available budget for health interventions.

DALYs are established on the conceptualisation of individuals as exclusively economic beings, but individuals may fail to live up to the economically productive ‘ideal.’  DALYs may be partly responsible for the devaluation of the lives of certain individuals, by asserting the values of individualism in relation to wider economic gain where, individuals lose humanness when they become poor, and also unproductive.  Emma Whyte Laurie states that the problem may be less associated with DALYs as a measurement in itself, but rather with the faith that has been placed in them by mainstream institutions.

The question of who benefits from health interventions is heavily value-laden. Priority-setting is essentially a political and social process (rather than a scientific one), involving deliberation and public accountability. Through the exact numbers provided by the DALY measurement, important questions of ethics and politics are omitted, potentially hindering important and difficult discussions of setting priorities in the health sector.

Emma Whyte Laurie considers the question posed by Farmer: ‘[if health is a human right, who is considered human enough to have that right?’ (2005, 206). According to Agamben (1998), throughout history, the humanity of living man has been judged by each society, which has decided whose lives have value. Today, these judgements are increasingly based on economic productivity or the pursuit of capital accumulation where certain (wealthier) lives are considered more valuable than others. DALYs reflect this, capturing the ‘disease burden’ through economic loss, but also addressing Farmer’s question as to who is valuable, or who is human enough, to be afforded the right to health.

References

books_icon   Agamben G. (1998). Homo sacer: sovereign power and bare life. Stanford University Press, Stanford CA

60-world2   Boseley S. (2015). Doctors challenge hepatitis C drug patent in price protest. The Guardian, 10 February

books_icon   Farmer P. (2005). Pathologies of power: health, human rights and the new war on the poor. University of California Press, Berkeley CA

books_icon   King C. H. and Bertino A-M. (2008). Asymmetries of poverty: why global burden of disease valuations underestimate the burden of neglected tropical diseases. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases 2 e209

books_icon   Laurie E.W. (2015). Who lives, who dies, who cares? Valuing life through the disability-adjusted life year measurement. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 40:1 pp. 75–87.

60-world2   World Health Organization (WHO). Metrics: Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALY).

Man’s best friend?

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

In an article recently published in Area, Remus Creţan’s (2015) study of dog culling in Romania provides a splendid example of a practical application of animal geography to a situation that will be familiar to academics and non-academics alike.

An aggressive dog Source: Wikimedia Commons

An aggressive dog
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Creţan (2015) takes a more-than-human approach – that is, considering the ways in which humans and animals interact and  co-habit in particular spaces – to the relatively recent debate surrounding the culling of stray dogs in Romania in 2013. In September that year, a 4-year old child was mauled to death in Bucharest by a stray dog. The ensuing government proposal for a dog culling policy was met with vigorous protest from both the public and animal rights activists, on ethical grounds. Stray dogs were abundant on the streets of Bucharest, and overcrowding led to poor conditions in dog shelters, so it became necessary for some form of action to be taken. Following considerable debate, the puppy dog eyes of anti-culling protesters prevailed; euthanasia of stray dogs is, for the moment, banned in Bucharest.

Dogs are valuable military team members Source: Wikimedia Commons

Dogs are valuable military team members
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Human-dog relationships span across the spectrum, from pampered pets and trusted work colleagues, to pesky pests and feared beasts. A lot of work in animal geography is based around the notion that humans create imaginative and physical spatial categories in which animals are deemed ‘in place’. Any resistance against these spatial placings, or transgression from them, and animals are considered ‘out of place’. This is when they may become ‘pests’, threats to human order.This explains, for example, why your beloved family pet or the endangered giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo are loved and treasured, whilst animals such as urban foxes or feral pigeons can provoke World War 3.

The issue of stray dogs, thus, becomes inherently geographical; dogs in western society belong in the home, and those that live on the street, therefore, become a risk to human society. There is also a moral argument underpinning this problem; do humans have the right to cull animals? Animals are, after all, sentient beings, making the line between euthanasia and murder increasingly blurred. The culling of animals has been against EU legislation on animal welfare since the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997. However, there have been occasions in the not so distant past when the British government has had to consider the culling of various animals; the foot and mouth crisis in 2001, for example, or the more recent debates about badgers.

The Dangerous Dogs Act was enacted by the British government in 1991, and outlines certain particularly troublesome breeds that it is illegal to breed or sell. Whilst dangerous dogs are not as prevalent in this country as they are in Romania, there are still more cases of dogs mauling humans than there should be. The difference in Britain is, however, that most of these are caused by pet dogs, often uncharacteristically, but also, sadly, sometimes by dogs that have been mistreated and misled by their owners. This raises a further ethical question that must be considered when the lives of dogs are being as freely tossed about and fought over as their chew toys. Whilst many look to blame dogs, should we not, in fact, be penalising the people who lead them astray? Surely aggression is something a dog learns, not a trait it is born with? Far from foe, dogs are, after all, ‘man’s best friend’.

The author's own pampered pet pooches, Mitch (left) and Monty (right)

The author’s own pampered pet pooches, Mitch (left) and Monty (right)

books_iconCreţan, R. (2015). “Mapping protests against dog culling in post-communist Romania”, Area, doi: 10.1111/area.12155.

60-world2Clej P 2013 Bucharest dog cull plan divides Romanians  BBC

60-world2Wensley S 2013 Viewpoints: What can be don about dangerous dogs? BBC

 

Fox News ‘no-go zones’ and British Muslim negotiations of urban citizenship

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

Over the past month, the geography of Europe’s Muslim population has been greatly exciting the pundits invited to talk on the conservative Fox News channel. Furore was sparked when ‘terrorism expert’ Steven Emerson, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, told host ‘Judge Jeanine’ about the ‘hundreds’ of ‘no-go zones’ across Europe, in which non-Muslims are supposedly not welcome.

Emerson stated, “In Britain, it’s not just no-go zones, there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go… In parts of London, there are actually Muslim religious police that actually beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to religious Muslim attire.”

UKIP’s Nigel Farage even turned up to tell Sean Hannity about the ‘blind eye’ that has supposedly been turned towards the ‘Muslim ghettos’ where ‘the police and all the normal agents of the law have withdrawn’ and where ‘Sharia law has come in’.

These segments were widely mocked across social media and the station eventually issued an apology, stating that there was “no credible information to support the assertion”.

Despite the apology and the ridicule, this idea of ‘no-go zones’ has been seized by the far-right. Nationalist group Britain First has, according to The Independent, restarted its ‘Christian patrols’ in parts of east London, with the stated aim to make “our streets safe for our people”.

Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana and a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, has also jumped upon the ‘no-go zones’ theme, telling a neocon think tank that, in the West, there are areas in which “non-assimilationist Muslims establish enclaves and carry out as much of Sharia law as they can.”

An article by Deborah Phillips in January’s edition of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers is critical of these kinds of popular and political representations of Muslim neighbourhoods, which typically portray Muslim communities as made up of “dubious citizens and unassimilable others”.

The paper seeks to “complicate understandings of British Muslim citizenship” by underscoring the “salience of the neighbourhood as a performative space implicated in citizenship formation and the sedimentation of feelings of belonging.” Philips’ work involved conducting interviews and focus groups with Muslims and newly arrived economic migrants from Eastern Europe in the UK city of Bradford.

Like the right-wing pundits, freedom of movement was foremost among the Muslim participants’ concerns; the freedom to travel into ‘white areas’ was widely perceived to be constrained, with many women stating that they feel uncomfortable about moving outside community spaces because of fear of hostility and violence. Female participants described the commercialised city centre as ‘not for the likes of us’, and ‘sort of out of bounds’.

The apparent ease with which their new Eastern European neighbours traversed the city, as seemingly ‘unmarked’ White Christian bodies, was identified as a source of tension. Muslim participants suggested that this stood in contrast to their own lack of freedom to “cross the boundaries of public space without surveillance and ‘all that hassle’… or to enter white residential spaces without fear of harassment.”

One idea mooted by Phillips is that the desire to appropriate city space may be, at least in part, motivated by feelings of restriction. The sense of empowerment gained when moving through a ‘Muslim neighbourhood’ goes a little way towards compensating for immobilities elsewhere.

These debates, involving issues of citizenship, identity and appropriation of space, are inherently geographical and have so far been largely dominated by actors seeking to capitalise on anti-Muslim sentiment. Phillips’ paper is a timely contribution that works to inject some desperately needed nuance into these debates that show few signs of dissipating.

 Deborah Phillips, 2015, Claiming spaces: British Muslim negotiations of urban citizenship in an era of new migrationTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 40(1) 62-74.

“Park Life”

By Sarah Bell, Cassandra Phoenix, Rebecca Lovell and Benedict Wheeler, University of Exeter Medical School

Photo credit, from left to right: The European Centre for Environment & Human Health; Sarah Bell

Photo credit, from left to right: The European Centre for Environment & Human Health; Sarah Bell

“I feed the pigeons, I sometimes feed the sparrows too. It gives me a sense of enormous wellbeing (parklife) and then I’m happy for the rest of the day, safe in the knowledge there will always be a bit of my heart devoted to it (parklife)”

Perhaps Damon Albarn was onto something when he wrote the lyrics to Blur’s infamous “Parklife” track. Interacting with pigeons, sparrows and other forms of biodiversity may well have implications for individual health. Research increasingly points to the potential health benefits of living beside the sea or in greener areas. For example, earlier this year, the BBC reported on a study identifying a sustained positive effect on wellbeing amongst individuals who had moved to greener living environments (focusing on those moving between different urban environments). This built on earlier research indicating that people living on the English coast are more likely to feel ‘fit’ and ‘well’ than those inland.

Whilst lower stress and enhanced opportunities to exercise were suggested as possible explanations for these trends, calls have been made for studies to explore how and why people routinely use their local green and blue spaces to promote their health and wellbeing. Our understanding of the links between such spaces and wellbeing could be improved by examining variations in perceived benefit within different types of green and blue environments, and the possible barriers that might prevent positive experiences in these spaces.

A paper recently published in Area presents a novel methodological approach for exploring these individual aspects of everyday green and blue space experience. Residents from two Cornish towns were initially asked to wear an accelerometer (a device that logs physical activity levels at regular intervals) and a GPS unit for seven consecutive days. The data from these two devices were used to create a set of personalised maps for each participant, showing where they went that week, how long they stayed in different places (green, blue and built) and how active they were.

These maps provided a useful visual tool to guide discussion in the second stage of the research, which involved an in-depth qualitative interview with each participant. During the interviews, participants talked through each of their maps, discussing any visits or activities that they felt were linked to their wellbeing in some way, as well as changes in their priorities and interactions with the spaces over time.

Finally, a series of ‘go-along’ interviews were conducted in places deemed important by participants, offering further insights into the experiences and relationships playing out in these places.

The results of the research are currently being finalised, but this paper highlights the potential to use this novel methodological approach to gain in-depth insights into how people use and experience their local spaces and places.  It also helps to identify ‘subtle’ design opportunities that could enhance inclusivity, experiences and interactions between people and their local environments to promote wellbeing.

About the authors: Sarah Bell is a PhD candidate at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School. Cassandra Phoenix is a Senior Lecturer, Rebecca Lovell is a Research Fellow and Benedict Wheeler is a Senior Research Fellow at the same institution.

60-world2 BBC 2012 People feel ‘healthier’ on the English coast

books_icon Bell, S. L., Phoenix, C., Lovell, R. and Wheeler, B. W. (2015), Using GPS and geo-narratives: a methodological approach for understanding and situating everyday green space encounters. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12152

60-world2 Clark N and Lovell S 2014 Is conserving biodiversity the key to good mental health? The conversation.

60-world2 Kinver M 2014 Green spaces have lasting positive effect on well-being BBC

60-world2 Richardson L 2013 Greenwash: have the benefits of green space been exaggerated? Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health (CRESH)

60-world2 Wheeler B 2013 Beyond Greenspace – project summary

New Virtual Issue on Financial Geography in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers – free online

Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers,  a Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), invites you to enjoy a new Virtual Issue on Financial Geography, guest edited by Manuel B Aalbers. This virtual issue is free to access online for 2015.

The guest editor, Manuel B Aalbers says:

This Virtual Issue traces the development of financial geography through 15 papers published in Transactions between 1976 and 2014. Although Transactions published a few earlier papers dealing with building societies and international lending, the birth of a distinctive literature on the geographies of money and finance can be traced back to the mid-1990s.  While British geographers originally dominated the debate, financial geography is increasingly internationalised, rescaled and decentred. Financial geography has established itself within geography and increasingly also within interdisciplinary and pluralistic political and cultural economy debates.

books_icon This Virtual Issue on Financial Geography is available free to access for 2015 online via the Transactions (of the IBG) website

books_icon Please visit the Transactions (of the IBG) Virtual Issue page to access other VIs: including Adrian J Bailey and Brenda S A Yeoh’s guest edited VI on “Migration, society and Globalisation”.