Delivering Environmental Sustainability: ‘Top Down’ vs ‘Bottom Up’

This is a question that bugged me the other day, I couldn’t decide which approach was more effective so I did a little research and jotted down a couple of notes, have a read and let me know your thoughts in the comment section.

A ‘bottom up’ approach to delivering environmental sustainability relies on the general populace making changes in their lifestyles and demanding that the government make changes too. Rayner (2010, p.617) explains that the basic proposition of a ‘bottom up’ approach is that “climate change policies should be designed and implemented at the lowest feasible level of organization”. This ‘bottom up’ approach is the opposite to the ‘top down’ approach that sees governments/powers implicating changes that affect societies as a whole; things such as laws, initiatives and incentives.

The first thing to address is the problem with a system that relies solely on ‘top down’ approaches to achieving environmental sustainability. Smith (2008, p.363) argues that even though ‘top down’ approaches have the advantages of expert insight as well as financial and technical resources, it will always be unsuccessful without the participation of local knowledge. Bäckstrand (2003, p.31) supports this by saying that the current system is flawed because of a lack of collaboration; experts should be considerate of local knowledge and more effort should be made to establish dialogue between experts and citizens.

It has been argued that the Kyoto treaty was a failure in terms of delivering environmental sustainability due to lack of understanding of the intricacies of the problems it faced, which reveals the weaknesses of a ‘top down’ approach. Prins and Rayner (2007, p.975) criticise the treaty, saying that instead of aiming for precise targets for emissions reductions, governments should instead promote a ‘bottom up’ approach that benefits from social learning. This would also allow governments to drive towards a goal of ‘fundamental technological change’, whilst focusing on how governments, firms and households actually do to reduce emissions. So it seems that even though people may think that governments will have the power to bring change, in fact the most important way to do this is by working up from the bottom.

An important aspect of the ‘bottom up’ approach is self-evaluation and analysis of one’s current lifestyle, which has been made far easier thanks to EFA, which was pioneered by Professor William Rees in British Columbia, Canada. It is described as the greatest tool for measuring an individual’s ecological footprint by measuring: food and renewable material consumption, transport use, energy use, built land and waste production (WWF, 2002a, cited in Sutcliffe et al, 2008). After using the WWF footprint calculator, it was revealed that I use only 40% of my share of emissions, and I was given tips on how I can even further reduce my impact. This encourages people to make changes on an individual level, by changing small aspects of daily lifestyle to reduce carbon emissions; it’s the small things that will add up to make big differences.

In conclusion, since ‘top down’ approaches seem to be more flawed and harder to control than one may think, the best approach for delivering environmental sustainability would be to work from the bottom. This would require work to encourage governments, industries and households to analyse and evaluate their ‘footprints’, and make every effort to reduce their own impact on the planet. Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Don’t forget to share this page and subscribe to the website to receive updates for new content, you can also follow the Fox Eyed Man on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr for further discussions about environmentalism.

References:

Bäckstrand, K. (2003). Civic Science for Sustainability: Reframing the Role of Experts, Policy-Makers and Citizens in Environmental Governance. Global Environmental Politics 3(4), pp.24-41.
Prins, G. & Rayner, S. (2007). Time to Ditch Kyoto. Nature 499(7165), pp.973-975.
Rayner, S. (2010). How to eat an elephant: a bottom-up approach to climate policy. Climate Policy 10(6), pp.615-621.
Smith, J.L. (2008). A critical appreciation of the “bottom-up” approach to sustainable water management: embracing complexity rather than desirability. Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability 13(4), pp.353-366.
Sutcliffe, M. et al. (2008). Can Eco-Footprinting Analysis Be Used Successfully to Encourage More Sustainable Behaviour at the Household Level? Sustainable Development 16, pp.1-16.
WWF Website. (2002a). Ecological Footprinting: a Guide for Local Authorities.

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Veganism – Top 10 ‘WTF’ Comments

As a vegan it can be an almost daily event to have an uninformed meat eater say the most inconsiderate and sometimes downright ridiculous things about veganism. Even though it can be frustrating and saddening to see how little people know about the impact of animal agriculture, taking a step back to look at their comments can be enlightening or even rather funny. People seem to make up facts on the spot or conjure up mad justifications without realising how silly they sound, and the results can often be spectacular and sometimes hilarious. I’ve collected 10 of my personal favourites here so you can have the last laugh, and I’m sure you may have heard some of them. If there are any more you think deserve a mention, then drop them in a comment below!

10 – “I tried going vegan once, there was literally nothing I could eat”

It genuinely surprises me that people do their weekly shopping as meat eaters and manage to navigate their way to the fruit and veg section of the shop easily enough. Yet as soon as they try going vegan, the fruit and veg section seems to mysteriously vanish from the face of the planet and all they feel they can eat is dry toast. I know that from an outside perspective it can seem that your choices become limited as a vegan, but the issue I think many people encounter is that instead of just trying new things, they desperately try to emulate their old diet with vegan alternatives. These products are getting better and more plentiful everyday, but they are still usually quite limited and I believe this is where the ‘expensive veganism’ myth comes from.

9 – “But I am against animal cruelty”

Now this one really makes me cringe. Just to stop myself losing all faith in humanity, I have to convince myself that the people who say this genuinely have never seen any picture showing the conditions in the animal agriculture industry. Either this or they fool themselves into thinking that their conscience can be cleared after eating a steak by sharing a petition about dog meat in some far off country.

8 – “Plants can feel pain too”

Pain is a response that is triggered by the brain when the nerve endings are affected. Without a brain, or for that matter a central nervous system, plants cannot feel the pain that sentient beings do. Of course plants respond to stimuli such as light, and no one can argue that they are not living things, but the fact still remains that plants do not have the components to actually feel a physical response such as pain. There are studies which I have not yet researched that are examining the possibility of sentience in botanical life, but the fact still remains; no brain, no pain.

7 – “You kill loads of tiny things when you walk”

That is almost certainly true, and it is unfortunate, but when I walk I am not systematically exploiting these tiny life forms for their ‘produce’. I haven’t raised a small patch of dirt with the sole intention of stamping on it’s tiny residents just for the purpose of enjoyment. If I could avoid killing anything then you can be sure that I would, but that’s the difference, humans have the choice not to kill or exploit animals, yet we continue to do so.

6 – “We’re animals”

Ironic or what? The very argument itself confirms their status alongside those they kill and exploit. At least some people have the delusion that they are in some way superior to animals (but that has its own set of issues that I don’t even want to begin tackling). We are animals, that is a fact, and to use this statement as a justification for animal agriculture is as brainless as it gets. Normally this is followed by something as tired and useless as “lions eat meat”… aaand what, are you suggesting you are a lion? Or even worse the somehow proud look guys have on their face when they compare themselves to outdated depictions of ‘cavemen’. These views are a twisted mess of power relations, social norms and objectifications akin to a stubborn ball of earphone wires that we vegans have the ‘pleasant’ job of untangling.

5 – “There’s not enough room on the planet to produce vegetables for everyone”

Whoa is it opposite day or something? The land requirement for a plant based diet is one third of the land needed to support meat and dairy. I’ve also heard several times that “rainforest destruction is the vegans’ fault, it’s all that soy they eat”… what are you smokin’ buddy, whatever it is it sounds pretty strong. The massive plantations of soy aren’t grown for vegans (we a eat quite a bit, but not THAT much), they are grown for western cattle consumption. If populations were controlled and the world lived on a vegan diet, today’s environmental issues would be a distant memory.

4 – “Yes but we’re putting the animals out of their misery”

Seriously. If I set someone on fire and then killed them, the whole thing would be fine “because I’m putting them out of their misery”? This is just absurd, I mean honestly do they not understand that there would be no misery without animal agriculture? The whole statement is a testament to the growing disassociation between consumer and producer that keeps an ignorant populace insensitive to the practices that put the meat on their table. The animals in question are subject to systems of classification decided by the dominant culture, which leads to discrimination towards certain species (otherwise known as ‘speciesism’). In other words, certain animals are put into groups that are labelled edible and inedible; for example eating a dog in the US is unthinkable because of this classification. Yet because pigs are classed as edible, their consumption is normalised and their treatment marginalised.

3 – “Vegans fart more, it’s disgusting”

This one really made me giggle, I mean it’s such a natural thing but it’s treated like a blasphemous outburst. As a matter of fact this gassiness is actually a sign of good gut health! You can inform your woefully ill informed meat-head that the reason we may fart a little more is simple:

There are 2 types of carbohydrates in the human diet; digestible and indigestible.  Digestible carbohydrates include starches and sucrose, whilst Indigestible carbohydrates include cellulose and other fibers. Vegans have an increased rate of plant fibre intake and rely heavily on pulses and beans which contain a unique chain of sugars called Oligosaccharides. The human digestive tract lacks the proper enzymes to break down these substances, allowing them to pass through the tract and provide health benefits such as improved mineral absorption, constipation prevention and more. These carbohydrates then stimulate the beneficial microflora that inhabits the human gut, which release gas; in short ‘happy tum = gassy bum’.

Diets rich in digestible and poor in indigestible carbohydrates have increased levels of glucose and fructose with the potential consequences of weight gain and excessive blood sugar absorption. These conditions can potentially lead to liver disease, type II diabetes, obesity, dyslipidemia, cardiovascular disease and a weakened immune system. So yeah, not farting should be weird!

2 – “Hitler was a vegetarian”

This was a real WTF for me. I don’t even know in what universe this could be a logical statement. Not only is it disrespectful, but it’s also downright idiotic and lets be honest, ironic. It’s like they have ignored the whole point of veganism and assume it’s some fascist cult come to take away their rights, which are obviously more important than anything else. The fact that they can stand there after being informed of the truths of animal agriculture and say this with a big stupid grin on their face makes me question their sanity.

1 – “Mmm… Bacon”

Yes you knew it was going to be here somewhere, the big daddy of all vegan bashing comments. You may think that this phrase is excruciatingly frustrating, but just remember one thing; they have no arguments left. If you reach the point in the conversation where a meat eater uses this phrase, you can indulge in a smug little smile knowing full well that you have won the debate.

All of these points are examples of cognitive dissonance, which is the rejection of new information to preserve an already prevalent set of ideas. This is a psychological defence mechanism that is triggered when new information challenges a person’s beliefs or assumptions and causes a mental conflict. People must learn to overcome this hindrance in order to advance as logical and emotionally intelligent beings.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this list, it may expand as I hear more (for the sake of progress, let’s just hope this list doesn’t grow). If you are a vegan, I’m sure you’ve heard some of these before so hang in there, and if you are new to veganism… just brace yourself. If you aren’t vegan, I sincerely hope this guide has opened your eyes to some of the facts, and that you walk away a little wiser. If you would like more advice about becoming vegan then there will be lots of resources on this site for you to get started, as well as all over the interwebs (you can even contact me if you like). Thank you for reading!

If you do want more advice about veganism and ideas on how to live more sustainably then explore the site a little, I’m sure you’ll learn something new!

Don’t forget to share this page and subscribe to the website to receive updates for new content, you can also follow the Fox Eyed Man on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr for further discussions about environmentalism.

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emissions carbon footprint travel Iceland stupid ecological facts ethics wtf animal agriculture top 10 winter raw problematic ovo-sexing ethical victory loss grinder industry geothermal culling male chicks eggs money nature anime studio manga ghibli miyazaki rights animal rights future animal funny government change plant based free meat suffering environmental sustainability education food health veganism environment vegan