The Sustainable Development Goals and Me – Part One

Author: Stephen Downes
Go to Source

With even the World Economic Forum embracing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) I thought it would be an appropriate time to check my own activity and see whether I’m supporting the goals in what I do. It’s also a good time to review just what they are and maybe look forward a bit.

Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere

This matters quite a bit to me and I would like to think that the work I do in education is helping with this. But I also think a more tangible contribution is warranted.

To this end, I have been making loans through Kiva for a number of years. Why loans? What I like about the program is that the loans help people develop their capacity to earn, and also, it allows me to take the same money to help even more people. I’ve made 202 $25 loans over the years; you can view the full list here.

On the main UN SDG page it suggests that we should donate what we don’t use. This is a good suggestion; the problem with donating is that I don’t have a lot of money. But I do have stuff I don’t use. I’m a regular at the Salvation Army clothing drop. I have a card on my desk that will help me donate my older smartphones (though I haven’t used it yet) and I really really should get my electronics recycled (they’re just sitting in ‘the box’). Something to focus on.

Goal 2: Zero Hunger

Every time someone tells me how great capitalism is I point to the problem of global hunger and ask how this is morally defensible. There’s always someone who comes along who says we’re making great progress. We’ve all seen that Hans Rosling TED talk. But you can play with percentages all you want; the bottom line is that there is still world hunger.

It’s hard to know what I can do. The main SDG page suggests that I waste less food and support local farmers. So far as I know, my food waste is almost zero (but who knows how much is wasted in the system of farms and stores that bring the food to me). The main thing I can do is support local farmers, which I do. And from my perspective, supporting local farmers means more than just buying local food; it means supporting and promoting their activities, and being clear about the importance of agriculture.

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Health care represents another failure of capitalism for the simple reason that a person who is ill is not in a position to make choices about health care options. So for me, the major way I can support this goal is to promote the objective of public health care. This is the sort of system we have in Canada, and compared to what they have south of the border it has saved countless lives and prevented innumerable people from falling into financial ruin.

I know some governments (including some Canadian provinces where I’ve lived) don’t have the financial resources to fund a fully modern public health care systems. But the fact is, if this is true, then it’s doubly true of a private health care system, because private health care costs more. What is needed is a refocusing of priorities, not a sneaky way to deny health care to the poorest.

The main SDG page suggests making sure your family is vaccinated. We make sure every year to vaccinate against the flu (I know people in the aforementioned poor province who don’t get vaccinated, even though they ought to know better, and then complain about health care costs).

Goal 4: Quality Education

To me the best way to meet this goal is to ensure access to public education for everyone. Just as in the case of health care, I feel that private education is more expensive and simply reallocates funds from poor people to rich people, providing more quality for some at the expense of the rest. I’ve done a lot of work on education, which I describe elsewhere.

The main SDG page suggests helping to educate the children in your community. I don’t actually do very much for children’s education per se, save to occasionally volunteer in high school ed tech competitions. I’m not sure my help is needed locally; I’ll keep posting resources (like this post) online and helping in that way.

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Not having a lot of power in my workplace or community, there’s not a lot I can do. Mostly (and maybe this is the most important) I have always respected women, listened to them (as much as I listen to anyone, which isn’t always as good as it could be), and offered support and encouragement when they have asked for it. In my newsletter and in my writing I have sought to be sure to ensure that women have a voice. Yes, I criticize their arguments, but they deserve no less.

Also importantly, you can look through my history in as much detail as you want and you won’t find a #metoo moment. I’ve probably had as many chances to create such moments in my life as anyone, but my decision has always been to not take advantage of intoxication, to not take advantage of my position, and to not stand around and say nothing when something happens. I say this not because I’m proud of this (though maybe I am, a little, though I shouldn’t be) but to show that we’ve always known such behaviour is inappropriate, and that you could be a man and still be decent.

Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all

Well I live in a country with something like twenty percent of the world’s fresh water so my impact here is going to be limited. I can (and do) express outrage that our indigenous people still lack clean drinking water, which is absurd in Canada. I see where shills like the Fraser Institute want to sell the water to the highest bidder, which I think is a bad plan and will lead to even more people here in Canada unable to afford water.

What I really think we need are effective ways to desalinate water. I don’t know how I can help make that happen, though I do think selling our water just makes this less likely.

The main SDG page suggests “don’t waste water”. Where I live, this really doesn’t make a lot of difference (though I do make sure that our plumbing doesn’t leak). We’re on a septic system now (so all the water feeds the grass and trees around us) but even when we’re hooked up to the sewage system (which will be soon) the water I use goes into the wastewater treatment plant and back into the water system.

Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy

I wrote about energy just a few days ago, and echo those same points here. The cause – and solution – to energy issues lies not with individuals, but with the one percent who benefit from dirty energy sources.

That said, the main SDG page says “use only energy efficient appliances and light bulbs”. And that we do; all our light bulbs are LED, our appliances are all energy-efficient, and we drive a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). Our energy budget is just a tiny percentage of our household expenses (we spend way more on information services from Bell, but that’s another story).

The main thing here, I think, is to not let government abandon alternative energy. There’s a lot of debate in Canada right now about that, and we have (for example) a provincial government that essentially eliminated all the province’s clean energy initiatives (as compared to the government in my previous province, New Brunswick, which never had them to begin with). This has to be fixed.

Meanwhile, something I could do further perhaps is to purchase carbon offsets. It’s something to think about. Though I think paying for carbon emissions is something everybody should be doing, not just those of us who care.

Read more

The Sustainable Development Goals and Me – Part One
Scroll to top