When It Comes to Sustainability, the US is Just Another Developing Nation


Sustainable Neighborhood via killer apps

When it comes to Sustainability, the US is just as lost as most other nations.  We have the added challenge of massive amounts of established suburbia, whereas Europe, for example,  has much compact development built before the automobile. I’ve heard it said the Europeans have a lifestyle that is twice as efficient as that of the United States.  They get twice the economic output as we get out of one BTU.

In my quest to come up with the Killer Modeling Tool that gives communities the ability to redevelop themselves sustainable, I came across this article in Ode Magazine about  Bangladeshi entrepreneur Iqbal Quadir. He started a microloan program, the Grameenphone,  that gets  cell phones in the hands of the poorest people in the world.

With the introduction of cell phones, local entrepreneur efforts can flourish. For instance  in the southern Indian state of Kerala, for example, the price of fish fell 4 percent while profits for the fishermen rose 8 percent because improved communication allowed fishermen to meet demand quickly and accurately. According to Leonard Waverman of the London Business School, the introduction of 10 mobile phones for every 100 residents of a developing country leads to a 0.6 percentage point increase in per capita GDP. Jeffrey Sachs, the celebrated development economist, has even called the mobile phone “the single most transformative tool for development.”

Iqbal recently wrote on The Huffington Post that sending 10,000 fewer American soldiers to Afghanistan would save $2.5 billion a year, which could be used to provide $300 microloans to 5 million Afghans and purchase Afghan products like carpets and pottery. “Trade and commerce could bring democracy and harmony from the bottom up,” Quadir wrote….

“Don’t get me started,” Quadir says at the mention of development aid, laughing. The problem, as he sees it, is once again concentration of power. Because the vast majority of aid goes to governments, the power of that money is concentrated in the hands of the few, stifling the innovative drive of the many. Charity may lessen the effects of poverty, he believes, but does not achieve what is arguably much more important: the creation of prosperity.

Although Quadir recognizes the value of non-governmental organizations (NGOs)—“They may not necessarily create a lot of economic value and efficiency,” he says, “but they address humanitarian needs”—he questions their lasting effects. “NGOs do not face a real test of whether they’re providing a useful service,” Quadir says. A better way to help, he suggests, would be to treat the poor as consumers. “Then your eyes and ears are checking out that you are providing something they really need, and so you make sure you provide a service that makes them happy.”

Good intentions are not enough, Quadir stresses. “Some organizations are doing their work in the name of fighting poverty,” he says. “But doing anything ‘in the name of’ something can be dangerous. ‘In the name of God’ or ‘in the name of patriotism,’ a lot of bad things have happened. That is another reason why economics is a good thing. A businessman cannot do anything ‘in the name of’ whatever. He’s only trying to make a profit. As soon as a businessman is not efficiently providing something that’s needed, somebody else will displace him. He’s not secured by God or by the government, by race, by color or by any other excuse. In that sense, the businessman is actually more pure than the do-gooder. He is more honest.”

My point ?? Whether in Bangladesh or Baltimore, we need to get empowering tools in the hands of the people!

While he acknowledges that the challenges facing the developing world are vast, Quadir says he is convinced that the ability of ordinary people to innovate is even vaster—and that this intrinsic entrepreneurship will provide the necessary solutions. “Fortunately, there is no end to innovation,” he says. “As soon as someone invents something, it gives rise to other inventions. So new opportunities arise. Innovation is unpredictable, its effects are cumulative and its impact exponential.”

The quest for the Killer Modeling Tool continues.  What platforms will build off of  Google Earth, and give people feedback so they can make wise decisions in their regions without the collateral damage of externalities? We are facing the greatest challenges mankind has every known; what are the elements that will allow us to live in ecological balance?

It’s innovation from here on out, for all  6+ billion of us.  Join me in creating the software tools and the cell phone apps that will empower all the citizens of the planet in making sustainable real!!

Image courtesy of t2.gstatic.com

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