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Suggestions From The Readers

We frequently get good suggestions from our readers telling us of interesting stories, links, and ideas that we should be covering. This last week has been particularly bountiful, but it happens to coincide with a bunch of WorldChanging contributors winging their way to Austin for South by SouthWest. Rather than let the suggestions grow stale, I thought I'd put a bunch of them together in one post to give a taste of what WorldChanging readers are thinking about these days.

Curitiba, Brazil
Mobile Organic Food Market
India as Science Hub
Green Roof 101
Status of Women Around the World

  • Curitiba, Brazil, is rightly held up as a model of how sustainable urban planning can work in the developing world. The city has the most green area per inhabitant in Brazil (over 50 square meters per person), an aggressive recycling program (13% of garbage is recycled) and one of the best public transit systems in the world; it is also one of the economic engines of Brazil, with a much higher per-capita income than the national average. Curitiba now has an English-language website detailing its history, current profile and its urban planning process. Those of us with an interest in how to make cities work well can find hours of interesting material here. (Thank you, Maurits Ruis!)

  • Zaid's ongoing exploration of the current state of and future prospects for global agriculture have generated quite a bit of discussion. One very good question is how people in poorer communities can get access to healthier foods -- locally-grown organics, if possible. One example of a solution is the "People's Grocery," a community organization bringing organic food to the residents of West Oakland, a lower-income area near San Francisco. West Oakland has only one supermarket but 36 high priced "convenience" or liquor stores, of which only 3 carry fresh produce of any kind. To help the situation, People's Grocery operates a "mobile market" truck:

    Loaded with fresh produce, staple goods, and healthy snacks, the Mobile Market is a truck converted into a grocery store on wheels that travels through West Oakland selling food. The purpose of the Mobile Market is to increase food access for local residents and to expand their food purchasing options. Our produce is grown without chemicals by local farmers and is sold at affordable prices. The truck is colorfully painted, and equipped with a boomin' solar powered sound system. Run with young people from the neighborhood, the market is an attractive outreach tool for providing access to needed foods and sharing information about health and nutrition.

    People's Grocery also runs classes on home gardening and sustainable agriculture programs for local youth. (Thank you, Paula!)

  • Every month, to celebrate its 125th anniversary, Science magazine is running an essay under the theme of "Global Voices of Science." This month's piece is by Raghunath A. Mashelkar, director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and president of the Indian National Science Academy. In it, he argues that India is set to become a global center of innovation and knowledge, and one of the best indicators that this is happening is the number of non-resident Indians returning to India, along with the number of Indian university graduates choosing to remain in India rather than seek work overseas. Moreover, India is taking this course without either abandoning traditional knowledge or forgetting about other nations in poverty: India is on track to become a leapfrog catalyst for much of the developing world.

    India can similarly become an innovation hub for global health. Its reputation as a low-cost manufacturer of high-quality generic drugs already is high. Now discovery, development, and delivery of new drugs to the poor is another area in which India is becoming stronger. By following alternative paths rather than beaten ones, India is aiming to develop drugs at prices that are more affordable to more of the world's people. For instance, India is trying to build a golden triangle between traditional medicine, modern medicine, and modern science. By culling clues from traditional medical practices, researchers here are doing a sort of "reverse pharmacology," which is showing great promise.

    While little of what Mashelkar talks about will come as a big surprise to WorldChanging readers, it's good to see the case for India's innovation future laid out in such a clear way. (Thank you, Glory!)

  • We frequently mention green roofs as part of what a more sustainable built environment can include, but how much do you know about putting plants on top of buildings? Probably not as much as you should. You can check out "Greenroofs 101," at the green roof industry resource site Greenroofs.com for more information on the concept, what it takes, and what sorts of plants do best on top of your house. (Thank you, John Maas!)

  • Success for women is the key to achieving many of the Millennium Development Goals. Much can be learned about a country's future by looking at the economic status of and access to education and health care for women. The Population Reference Bureau has just published a global survey of the status of women. The survey shows mixed results but some signs of progress:

  • Girls’ school enrollments have risen markedly in most developing countries, and at the secondary school level are now are about 90 percent of boys’ enrollments;
  • Modern contraceptive use has risen steadily and births per woman have declined in all but a handful of developing countries;
  • Women’s share of the non-farm workforce has edged up slightly in countries where data is available; and
  • Women’s share of seats in national parliaments has also risen worldwide, although that share is still quite low.
  • Conversely, deaths due to pregnancy and childbirth, as well as HIV/AIDS infection rates, show little sign of improvement. The full report (PDF) covers a wide array of statistics in categories including Work & Public Life, Education, Reproductive Health and Demography. The survey is brief -- just 12 pages -- and well-worth checking out. (Thank you, Joe Deely!)

  • Comments (5)

    Darwin C Vickers:

    It always annoys me when Western chemical companies and politicians talk about new technolgies feeding a hungry world. I live in the Philippines where the markets are packed with food but many don't have the money to buy. In Canada, where I spent most of my life, grain is so plentiful that some farmers use a stove which can burn it to heat their homes, and the Government of Saskatchewan talks about become a new Saudi Arabia in the production of ethanol. Even the Philippines is talking about using coconuts for bio-diesel. Can there really be a shortage of food?


    Its more about feeding the world with less and less land and people needed to do it. If they up yield by 50% they can cut landuse by 33% yielding huge tracks of land usable for other purposes.


    Curitiba is one of the examples of the strong connection between the environment and the very soul of Brazil, not in the last place because of the traditionally strong relationship of its native inhabitants with nature.

    Brazil continues the tradition of its ancestors in modern history by bringing sustainable thinking into practise. 90% of Brazils electricity comes from hydroelectric power. In fact, the world’s biggest operational hydroelectric plant called Itaipu (native language for “singing rock”: http://www.solar.coppe.ufrj.br/itaipu / http://www.itaipu.gov.br/ ), near the city of Foz de Iguaçu, is based on the border between Paraguay and Brazil (China’s Yangtze Three Gorges Dam is not fully operational yet). From the two nuclear plants that are present in Brazil at least one of them, near the city of Angra dos Reis, was built because of IMF demands (http://www.uic.com.au/nip95.htm).

    Another example of the preoccupation with the environment is the experimental nature of its urban planning practise. The most important cities in the country differ fundamentally in structure. There is Rio, the perfect balance between nature and the built environment, embedded in the mountains that reach for the sea. There is Belo Horizonte, a classical grid based city. There is Brasilia, the Utopian capital designed in the shape of an airplane. There is São Paulo, an organism of overwhelming chaos. And there is Curitiba, the sustainable experiment.


    The wealth of North America originated from 80% of the population (in the late 1900s and early 20th century) being rural, being agricultural in focus and by being independent families generating their own wealth, without having to surrender any of that wealth to a specific corporation.

    One of you mentioned that efficiency is essential to doing and yielding more with less land. I ask you: do we ever question why we need more all the time? Is it because we are told by our religious leaders to multply without thought of consequence? And what would we do with that land instead? In most cases, in gets turned into vast new deserts called "suburbs" or "industrial parks".

    Organic farming and individual seed management brings one other critical aspect to food supply: diversity. If one or two companies manage and rule the supply of seed and pesticides (which are only needed for their brand of seed), we risk global starvation if something happens to that breed of seed.


    There is no shortage of food. There is a problem with how it is distributed and used.

    f.ex., 70% of grain production goes to feed animals that are then eaten. Extremely inefficient. The rest of it is so badly distributed that on one side you have people starving and on the other you have people dying of obesity-related diseases.


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