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Rachel Friedman

5 Day Challenge

A Dose of Subdued Earth Optimism

Somewhere in the world it is still Earth Day. Dating back to 1970, this now global celebration marked the heightened awareness of manmade threats to the natural environment. The safeguards introduced at that time - the clean air, clean water, and endangered species acts in the USA - have faced decades of opposition from major industrial interests and now (not even 50 years later) the possibility of scaling back or disintegration. In what many of us would consider a more enlightened age - we have been studying environmental phenomena for decades - it's astounding that there is still this war on nature and the crucial services that it provides and which humanity depends on.*



Fishermen in Ghana negotiate rubbish-ridden beaches

But I would argue that much of the environmental activism comes from a place of privilege (I include myself here), and I wonder how much we are successfully giving voice to those whose health, happiness, and livelihood are much more intimately tied to the condition of the natural environment. Sure, we all suffer if the air is unbreathable, and eventually most everywhere in the world will suffer the negative consequences of climate change, but oftentimes the hardest hit by polluted drinking water or habitat conversion or extensive droughts are those least capable of taking action or raising an outcry.

I bring this issue up on Earth Day, because I'm still of the opinion that the poor and marginalized make it into environmental discussion too infrequently ... and in development circles environmental health doesn't come in as a necessity that underlies food, water, income, and other usual indicators of poverty. A recent article in the Conversation called this issue into focus, introducing the concept of "environmentally-adjusted measures of multidimensional poverty". It suggests that we are actually overestimating the impact of increases in GDP and other econo-centric measures of growth and progress. This is not to say we shouldn't celebrate the strides made in reducing poverty and hunger (or as #EarthOptimism is highlighting, in conservation), but we should also be wary of getting too complacent and continue to strive toward recognizing how interconnected is the wellbeing of nature and humanity.


This blog post is just a week before participating in the Live Below the Line Challenge. If you have a moment, please consider donating to the charity sponsoring this effort to raise awareness and support education.


Live Below the Line 2017 Posts:

Related post: Valuation for Poverty Alleviation (2015)


* Not to mention an increasing combativeness towards the scientific evidence that supports the importance of the planet's natural systems.

Going Hungry in the 21st Century

Back in 2002, the United Nations decided that by 2015 the proportion of people who suffer from hunger should be cut in half from 1990 levels. We nearly met this target of a basic human right, alongside the other Millennium Development Goals, yet almost 800 million people (over 10% of the world's population) are still undernourished. In the next iteration, the UN set its sights higher with the Sustainable Development Goals, aiming to end world hunger by 2030. While this seems like a no-brainer in this day and age - how many people would argue that people shouldgo hungry?? - there are a number of reasons unrelated to how many calories farmers produce for why we continue to see chronic hunger and malnutrition, as well as bouts of acute famine. This post touches on two factors and specifically famine, as part of the lead-up to the Live Below the Line challenge in May (and I'm also raising funds for the awesome organization Oaktree, so check it out!).

So let's start with what should be a relatively straight-forward and objective topic - weather and a changing climate. Food shortages have been attributed to periods of drought, severe rainfall, and pests for millennia. Rainfall changes might spread diseases that wipe out crops, as prompted the Irish potato famine in 1845. The failure of the monsoon in India has taken blame for famines at the end of the 19th century. And while anticipated overdrawn aquifers and more intense storms may undermine crop and livestock production, our fisheries that feed the world's poorest are at risk from rising sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification. Even countries like Australia, with a particularly vulnerable agriculture sector, are not exempt from the impacts. Yet politically stable, wealthy nations have the capacity - that many other countries do not - to minimize acute events that often cause famines by importing food and sending aid to their affected populations.

This leads us to the topic of conflict, which can be both cause and result of food scarcity. This isn't news; back in the early 1990's, researchers argued that conflict and civil strife were the prime suspects instigating famines. A recent article in The Conversation captures the sentiment that famines don't "just happen", but are driven by particular social and political circumstances.

So enter 2017, where there is "high risk of famine in some areas of north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen because of armed conflict, drought and macro-economic collapse," according to the Food Security Information Network (FSIN). In the coming year, widespread food insecurity is expected to also pose problems in Syria*, Iraq, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. The region experienced considerable political discontent in the early 2010's, some say spurred on by rising food prices. But here again we encounter the the question of whether food shortages (driven by adverse weather, etc.) provoke conflict or the other way around. An article in The Economist argues that war and violence simmering in these countries made it next to impossible for farmers to cultivate crops to feed themselves and their neighbors, as well as for food aid and supplies to cross border lines. Many of the possible 2017 famines fall into the "avoidable" bucket.

Hunger may seem worlds away for many of us, but it is truly naive to believe that the instability and unrest that is both a contributor and a result of food insecurity is isolated, without far-reaching implications in terms of political security, counter-terrorism, and global food production. In some ways, countries "worlds away" are culpable; for example, the US provided weapons to the Saudis then used to stoke the war in Yemen. It is withdrawing aid to vulnerable regions in Africa. And finally, several countries facing famine are also on the proposed travel ban in the US, a cruel and unfeeling move, but also one way of seeding desperation and resentment.

It's clear that governments are not working in favour of the health and prosperity of their populations, so its more important than ever that we try to support efforts that are attempting to improve the human condition (and ultimately the environment on which we rely).

Below the Line in Trumplandia?

Each year since 2012 I've participated in the Live Below the Line challenge, where for one week you eat on a budget at the poverty line and raise money for a charity working on issues related topics. Strikingly, the topics on tap each year - poverty, income inequality, food security - have stayed relatively stable. While this suggests that we're just not getting it right when addressing these insidious problems, the injustice of it all makes me increasingly frustrated.
What do I mean? Well for one, the most poor and vulnerable have the least say over decisions that could make their lives better. What is happening in the US right now is an excellent example of how politics can rapidly turn the tide. As president, Obama passed healthcare reform, tax benefits for the lower income brackets, and ramped up anti-poverty spending (e.g. food stamps), arguably doing more to reduce inequality among Americans than any previous administrations. It's hard to imagine any of this being particularly unpalatable, and yet barely a breath after power shifts we see tax breaks for the wealthy and budget cuts to social support programmes. According to an Atlantic article, "it will be much hard being poor in America"...while the government doesn't directly control economic growth, its policies determine "how growth is shared."
That's just the short of it. There are quite a few worries about what the Trump presidency will mean for the poor further afield. At present, the US contributes 22% to the UN budget and 29% of global peacekeeping efforts. An 'America First' mentality and a budget proposal that slashes foreign aid expenditures may have serious consequences for some of the most impoverished in the world. It's still not really America first, though, is it? Is rolling back environmental regulations that hold companies accountable for water and air pollution, easing protections on endangered species, and flat-out denying combating climate change is worth a nickle really making America a better place for the majority of citizens. Because environmental degradation often disproportionately affects the marginalized and minorities, this weakening of the environmental protection is expected to have implications for social justice
While I suppose society simply weathers the ebb and flow of political inclinations, we must acknowledge the collateral damage. Live Below the Line runs from 1-5 May this year in Oz, supporting Oaktree, a youth-led organization that aims to alleviate poverty. Check out my fundraising page and keep tabs on this year's Live Below the Line challenge.
What happened during LBL in...

Eating Below the Poverty Line

While we live during an age where there is increasing recognition of human rights, advocates for social justice, and constant toil toward food and nutrition security, there are still vast inequalities in the world that both undermine human welfare and contribute to environmental degradation.

For the past five years, I've undertaken to "live below the line" for a week in order to raise awareness around these issues and funds for causes that strive to find solutions to them. Please join me this year by following the blog posts during and leading up to my sixth year of LBLing, as well as contributing to the spectacular work Oaktree is undertaking.

My Challenges

LBL Expert Recruited a friend Changed Pic Started a Team
Activated Challenge Mode Shared my Page Created my First Blog Followed LBL on Instagram
Upp'd my Fundraising Goal Got my 1st Donation Raised $300 Smashed my Fundraising Goal

Thank you to my Sponsors


Awesome Office Mates!



Amazing that this is your 6th year. Way to go and thanks for keeping us aware of critical food and poverty issues.




Joseph Woods

Great stuff Rachel!




Stephanie Avery-gomm

I think what you are doing here is great :)


Mickey & Cathy

We're always to happy to support you and your excellent causes. Thank you for sharing the experience in your blog.


Donald Field

I'm very pleased to support you and this worthy cause!