Health, wealth and happiness

Okavango-BotswanaIn my lifetime the human population of the world has doubled and, according to the World Bank, global Gross Domestic Product has quadrupled to over $42 trillion. There are many more of us than there were and inequity remains rife but we are, on average, much wealthier. Some of us are twice as well off as folk in the less crowded days I toddled through in the early 1960’s.

Collective wealth translates to tangible benefits. For example, we live longer than we did. Mean life expectancy is well over 75 years now in most western economies thanks to better nutrition, health care and a two-thirds drop in infant mortality. Babies survive because we have better sanitation and primary health care and mothers are well nourished. And then that health care system helps us recover from sickness and keeps us going when our bodies begin to tire.

Despite the fear mongering and the real dangers in conflict hotspots around the world, on average, we are much safer than we were. Marauders, thieves and bullies still exist and yet we can mostly walk the streets and laneways more safety than our ancestors.

Then there are the material benefits. Today in the ‘west’ we shop more, consume more and enjoy a lifestyle that would be the envy of the average 1960’s family.

I can still remember the excitement of the ‘pop man’ delivering soda to Nanny Olive’s two up two down terrace in Staffordshire, a place near the heart of the engine that drove the industrial revolution. I used to take an empty bottle of soda from the wooden crate hidden in the pantry in both hands and hand it over in gleeful anticipation of a full one in return. Tell a kid today that soda should be a once a week treat and she will swear at you — just like this little tyke from the same part of the world who took the ice bucket challenge. Classic at just 2 years old.

Wherever you look today you can see people who are healthier and much wealthier than their predecessors.

I lived in Botswana for seven years in the early 1990’s. The country was booming on the back of diamonds with roads, housing, shops, schools and health care facilities springing up out of the Kalahari sand. The grandparents of the kids that were in my classes at the newly independent University of Botswana could not believe the changes. Just a few decades before the country was one of the poorest in Africa, frequently ravaged by drought and hunger.

The old folks complained of the excesses, the traffic and the loss of the old ways. But just about every Batswana today is healthier and wealthier than the elders in their family.

Or are they? After all health and wealth are relative.

Is a man with access to modern heart surgeons who reconfigure the plumbing of his arteries clogged by poor diet and lifestyle choices, healthier than the villager who dies from malaria after 40 years without an ache or pain?

Does the ability to buy a plasma TV that keeps me forever on the couch make me wealthier than the villager who spends much of his day walking through the bush to find food?

Does the extra longevity I gain from my modern health and wealth help me if I am so stressed that if I stop even for a moment my world will come crashing down?

The thing is we can never answer these questions.

We can speculate that happiness is found in the pleasure of gathering your own food as you are nurtured by nature. And that happiness exists in the closeness of village life with its allure of support from kin and kind, even if that village culture also brings genital mutilation, domestic violence and inter-tribal warfare.

Whilst we know that obesity, diabetes and cancer will not make us happy; we know that warmth, comfort, and food do. When pressed most of us would agree that the modern village has its benefits too.

And there is a hidden benefit. As a general rule healthier and wealthier people do live longer. So health and wealth give you more time to find and experience happiness.

The against colour

In recent weeks I have been running around more than usual talking to people who wear suits to work. They have nice offices and meeting rooms with coffee to order brought in by waiters with Kevin on their name badge. This is all very nice if a little challenging for your caffeine intake.

The discussions have been about green bonds, a newish variant on a familiar form of fixed income investment. Along with talk of debt, security, risk and annuities, a conundrum that befuddled the starched white-collar folk was how to define green — often put as succinctly as the simple question, ‘what is green?’

Pause for a moment to ponder this situation. Here we have the business end of town asking a question that they have always managed to ignore. The very question that environmental advocates have consumed careers trying to get them to even think about asking.

There was even the suggestion that failure to answer the question might slow the process of green bond origination. Suddenly the health of the environment was important…

Surely not.

But there it was, the question they wanted answered was ‘what is green?’

Regular Alloporus readers will know that green is not my favourite colour — pastilles are more me. Green is a colour waved to claim goodness and the moral high ground and a banner to deny and repel a host of things that some people find useful — the mahogany table in the meeting room for example.

But my fundamental problem is that green is an ‘against’ colour.

Green is against logging, against clearing and against anything that damages nature. Green is against exploitation, excess and exuberance. Green is even against agriculture even though vegans still have to eat something

All this ‘against’ naturally comes with the requirement of being ‘for’ anything that is green. You have to be ‘for’ saving the koala, forests and anything indigenous. Habitat corridors are good green things and so we have to have them. The fact that evidence for the green credentials of corridors is equivocal should just be ignored.

Before I am trolled into submission for my heresy, let it be known that there is green in me beyond my many lime green t-shirts. I try to reduce, reuse and recycle and would prefer to see better use and protection of the environment.

And having been lucky enough to see them in the wild I know it would be gut-wrenchingly tragic for the black rhino to go extinct in my lifetime as seems increasingly likely. My science training reminds me that the loss of any species is irreversible. I even felt a little nauseous at some Youtube footage of bow hunting that turned up in a review piece.

Except that all this has nothing to do with the question of ‘what is green’ asked over coffee on the 14th floor. That was asked with a very different thought in mind. The question was about how to show the activity could deliver more than the required financial benefit.

On any number of levels that was weird.

The answer needed a list of benefits and ways to record and report them. This is actually how business people think. They count and they account. It would not be enough to say that green is against these things and for some others.

Of course business has no real interest in green. They are looking for the cheapest finance with the fewest strings attached. If one of those strings is green, so be it.

I wonder if the ‘against’ colour can handle that.


 

Other Alloporus posts on green…

Greens

Green has moved on

The greens need a new name

Can you answer these four easy questions?

factorySuppose that for an extra $5,000 on your home loan you could have unlimited electricity for all the household appliances and your electric car for the lifetime of your loan. Over the 25 years that must pass as you steadily pay the bank more than double the amount you borrowed [yes folks, it’s true] you would not have any energy bills.

Would you take the offer?

Now suppose you also own a factory that makes Halloween costumes for kids, the only one of its kind outside of China, and I said that for $20,000 you could have unlimited power day and night to run the machinery for as long as there are kids wanting lollies and parents willing to buy them scary outfits.

Would you find the money?

And now for your next car, whether you are in the market for an SUV or a hot hatch, what if you could purchase an electric version of you model of choice that had the acceleration of a Porsche, a 500km range, and cost 20% less than the petrol version?

What would you say?

It seems that Elon Musk the co-founder of the Tesla car company [among other things] knows your answers. He is building a solar-powered Gigafactory to make batteries. The plant will cover 93 ha of the Nevada desert and produce 50 GWh in annual production by 2020.

Because all it takes to realise these fantasies is the ability to capture and store sun or wind energy at a reasonable price. Reliable cheap batteries would make it happen

Here is the fourth and final question.

What would you do if you were on the board of a company and responsible for maintaining profits from a coal mine or coal-fired power station and you had the ear of the Australian prime minister?

Answers on a postcard.

Warrior 2

warrior-2

 

It took many days returning to the shade of the Acacia. Dust fogged the horizon and silt found the folds of fingertips. A branch had fallen, its leaves fermenting in the goats stomach as the timber warmed the warrior’s bones against the night air. A grub crawled out from the severed bough and shrivelled in the amber glow. Regret flicked at the flames then rode the smoke to find the stars. Fitful rest interrupted the fear that all warriors banish with bravery and the thrust of a spear into the dark.

Both sides of the coin

We are told that the universe is fond of opposites: black and white, ying and yang, United and City. And this week gave us a cracker.

In the UK the supermarket chain Asda had its corporate responsibility director come out with a climate change adaptation solution. He said “Businesses and other stakeholders in the food sector need to work with farmers and suppliers on water-related activities to ensure current and future demand for produce is met and to reduce their risk to supply-chain disruption.” Good PR speak as you might expect, only he went on to say, “We launched a water-trickle scheme for celery growers in Spain that provided a water-spray kit to farmers with the aim of ensuring a secure supply of product to our stores.

Asda justified this largess because they believed that global food prices and supply would be affected by “dire droughts” around the world. Not to mention the floods in the UK.

In other words the retailer realized that farmers are critical to their business and although this sounds like a no brainer to a supermarket, it is surprising how modern complexity of the commodity markets makes it easy for them to forget.

And so on to the other side of the coin.

Coles, a similar sized food retailer in Australia, asked its suppliers for cash payments. Yes, they just went out and asked suppliers to pay for the privilege of having their commodities sold in Coles stores. Nominally these payments were to “to help pay for what it claimed was improvements to the super­market’s supply chain”.

The competition watchdog got wind of this cheek and got upset. According to court documents Coles had a $30 million target from their supplies and had penned sales scripts to help their staff get on with it. We will wait and see if they get more than a wrist slap.

Now we could accept that the universe will always throw out some bad with the good on the celestial wind and let it land where it will. Apply this karmic logic to food supply in a commercial world and for every company with a vision there will be another out for a buck. Coles were just not in touch with the good bit.

Except that the world is looking at a doubling of food production by 2050 and I am not sure what the celestial balance makes of that.

Ask Alloporus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt has been a quiet spell on the Alloporus blog but you’ll be pleased to know it is not for want of healthy thinking. Although I sometimes wonder if thinking isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be. A day or two without it would be glorious.

In blatant ignorance of all blogging rules here are my excuses for a lack of posts.

First there is the day job that every now and again gets out of hand — lately it has been more out of hand than in.

Then there were two lots of house renovations — enough said already.

My climate change wisdom website hit a search engine wall and demanded some resuscitation only for the wall to be [temporarily] insurmountable — plus I discovered that all you need to fix any climate issues is to change the government. No websites are necessary [but don’t get me started on the most bizarre myCFI.gov.au].

And so to the main excuse. My new website Ask Alloporus  — not satisfied with a SEO website on climate I have created another on environmental issues.

The idea is to talk about the environment without all the spin. It is similar to climate-change-wisdom but with a less restrictive topic [and maybe a few more winnable search terms]

So far there are 70 odd pages grouped around

 

 

Please pop across to Ask Alloporus and have a gander and let me know what you think. All feedback would be gratefully received.

There is also an Ask Alloporus a question page if you want to create some content.

If you like the site, a link to Ask Alloporus from your site would be fantastic.

Happy thinking.

The Kardashian Index

Take a look at this graphic. It records the number of two somewhat related terms — climate change and food security — appear in Google searches.

GoggleTrends-climatechange+biodiversity

The data is for the number of searches over time presented as relative to the peak number of searches that in this case was for climate change in December 2009, the Copenhagen COP [out].

Now we have talked about these trends before [Climate change | Google trends #1 and Biodiversity | Google trends #2 ] and concluded that either everyone now knows all they need to about these terms and so has no further need for the Google Gods, or nobody cares.

What we need is something more positive, something trending in the right direction. All we have to do is add another term to climate change and food security.

GoggleTrends-climatechage+biodiversity+KimKardashian

Now the numbers are relative to a new peak for Kim Kardashian in June 2013, presumably because we wanted to know about her new beau.

The averages are meaningful here of course. Relative to that heady peak, the proportional averages mean that we need to know 30x more about Kim than the other two boring terms.

And we still want to know more. None of this ‘we know already’ about Kim for there is always something new to find out. People are still interested.

There is no doubt in my mind that the best source of information on how the world is travelling is to follow this Kardashian Index. It is, after all, going in the right direction — none of this decline or flat lining nonsense.

Governments, market analysts, even environmentalists need go no further than keep their eye on Kim’s search rankings to have a reliable, predictable and highly informative measure of the state of the planet.

And respect to Google for providing this index for free.

Ah, the depths to which we fall.

Postscript | I guarantee that with Kardashian as a keyword tag this post will receive orders of magnitude more views than any other on this blog… Thanks Kim.