The knowledge environment: the new for old, or the old for new? Prof. Farida Fortune
Professor Farida Fortune
School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary, University of London
Abstract: Education and health lie at the heart of the UN sustainable goals and are embedded in the knowledge environment. This paper suggests that there should be an interrelationship with our rapidly advancing knowledge base (with narrower and narrower outcomes) by learning from, and further exploring the use of local and traditional knowledge and skills. That the learning of current education and health should be rooted in the concept of the exosome which relies on the environmental biosphere, social behaviours impacting on individual health and consequently educational achievement. For robust outcomes a they must be imbedded in planning with a strong governance structure of organizational review /audit/systems review. Consider some examples of how we may learn from our environment and societal behaviours and customs which may add value to our high-tech disposable world.
Background: “It’s our last chance” - UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
I argue that the Global North should look to our history and the developing world for solutions to climate change.
How did we get here?
Understanding how we got here is key. Our four Climate Change Briefs illustrate the pathway of previous COP summits. The 1992 UN Rio Earth Summit agreed to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere but 30 years on, what have we achieved since then?
The Kyoto Protocol in 1997 aimed to decrease harmful emissions by 2012: this did not happen. Similarly, with the Paris agreement in 2015 a limit was agreed for a maximum global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.
A key milestone to achieve these goals involved channeling $100billion to developing nations or ‘other’ states to assist in mitigation and adaption to climate change. Only by working together can we achieve change as these examples of global cooperation illustrate.
The poorest and most disadvantaged take the brunt
We are now feeling the full effect of one of the most devastating global crises in recent times, with COVID infection rates remaining significant on an international scale. In 2020 there were 2.8 billion doses of COVID vaccine, with 1.8 billion to 92 poorest countries. The consequences can be seen now with Omicom.
Watching the news night after night there are terrible images of fires, flooding, infection, parched earth and erosion, or water pollution by large multinationals. Every time you look it’s the poorest most disadvantaged taking the brunt!
If we turn our thinking caps around and take our blinkers off, we can then look at how others perceive their world and adapt. We can become one group instead of two, each respecting that the other has a voice.
Learn from how the ‘others’ live
As the industrialised Global North urgently seeks solutions and consensus on climate change, should we instead be looking to our history and the developing world for practical, existing solutions?
For example, what about Egypt’s Zabbaleen or ’garbage people’? Around 60,000 of them are scattered across Cairo and collect rubbish from the population, 80% of which is recycled: contrasting with 46% in the UK. Good we say, we should learn from them. After the Egyptian government sidelined them by giving huge contracts to garbage companies – resulting in dirtier streets and a group threatened with rehousing on the edge of the dessert – they are once again part of Cairo’s official waste collection system.
In the Global South plastic bottles are often a precious commodity. In places where climate is dessert or semi-desert, or newly affected by soil erosion caused by drought and flash floods washing away top soil, bottles filled with either stones or sand anchor the soil and form a windbreak. Plastic bottles can also be repurposed to bring light to the poorest parts of the world, avoiding the indoor air pollution and other hazards created by candles or kerosene lamps.
Precious plastic bags scavenged from garbage make excellent liners in rough hessian bags keeping the water from evaporating and cool, they even make waterproof shelter and even furniture!
A huge amount of energy is currently used to either heat or cool homes. Energy efficient homes can be built using standards such as Passivhaus so that they maintain an almost constant temperature, but simpler existing solutions already existed long before the development of these standards.
Consider the cave dwellings in Matera in southern Italy, many of which have been transformed into hotels, or the troglodyte houses of Matmata in Tunisia, which provide protection against the summer heat and winter winds: perhaps better known in the Global North as Luke Skywalker’s childhood home in the Star Wars films.
Above ground air circulation and energy efficiency reviews can take inspiration from building methodology used in ancient Mesopotamia, which incorporated natural cooling elements such as courtyards. People in many places in the world already experience extreme temperatures, yet lead useful, productive lives, and as the Global North warms we can learn from them. For example, layering clothing traps air and keeps the ambient temperature next to the skin bearable, and we can practice night-time or ‘Mediterranean’ purging to keep our homes cooler in summer. We have amazing technology already available of which 3D developed in Dentistry and the mathematical modelling initially done at Queen Mary University of London. By using recyclable raw earth energy saving of over 70% is made. In medicine, new medication can easily be made by repurposing drugs in current use and exploiting known additional properties or using AI to repurpose medications, with huge fiscal savings. We have forgotten that many current drugs were originally repurposed from indigenous populations.
The challenge of perspective
The problem is that the $100 billion on projects is allocated by developed nations from the perspective of industrialised countries in the Global North, but we all have a huge amount to offer. If we appreciate how others live – their resilience and their adaption to the changes wreaking havoc with the environment – we can learn how to work and live together. Yes, use global technology to facilitate local ‘technologies’ to contribute to the solutions but have one group: all of us. One collective voice or ubuntu is much needed in this conversation, which may yet save us all.