It was the last day of the International Society for Ecological Economics 2012 conference taking place in parallel to the UNCSD Rio+20 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and many of the big names of this relatively young and vibrant academic discipline were lined up to talk in the final plenary sessions.
First, we heard from the dual winners of the 2012 Kenneth E. Boulding Award, the world’s top honor in the field of ecological economics, Dr. Mathis Wackernagel and Dr. William Rees. Together, they formed, in the early 1990s, the idea of the ecological footprint. That simple conceptualization of the amount of resources we consume and the waste and pollution we emit as compared to the carrying capacity of the earth, has been so effective in conveying the conundrum of modern consumerist paradigm that it became one of the most popular indices to describe and evaluate sustainability.
With most of the world’s population living in urban areas for the first time in history, understanding food supply in urban areas is becoming increasingly important. With the resurgence of the local food movement, urban food production in the form of personal, institutional and community gardens, rooftop gardens and urban farms, are emerging as a popular activities. For the past five years major urban areas have again been starting to recognize the potential of urban food production and consider ways to support it. The list of examples is endless.
Last year, for example, a bill to change San Francisco’s zoning code to allow urban agriculture across the city and legalize the sales of foods produced in urban gardens was passed by the Board of Supervisors. In 2010, a report by the Manhattan Borough President recognized personal, community and commercial urban agriculture and urban food production as the first goal in strengthening the local food system of New York, and the city’s Council speaker (and now mayoral hopeful) Christina Qunin introduced FoodWorks: A Vision to Improve NYC’s Food System. In addition, a report by the Urban Design Lab at Columbia University sorted through available land in NYC with some 29,000 lots of vacant and underused land to evaluate its effectiveness for urban agriculture.
In case you haven’t noticed (which would be almost impossible with all the email, blog and listeserv overload), the world is frantically preparing for the latest effort to make development sustainable, globally. UN officials, governments, NGOs, businesses and others are headed to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, aka Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro this June. This month, they are busy with preparatory meetings with informal titles such as ‘informal-informal negotiations’ and zero drafts flying around.
In full disclosure, I must admit, I have my doubts about the attempt to marry development and sustainability as the only viable path into the future. However, I too, look forward to these meetings. We sure need a change, as reports coming from the UN, OECD and basically everyone else tell us, we have not been doing so great on this sustainable development path since the official kick-off in the first United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio in 1992.