The Oblique Life Global Goals

The Oblique Life

The world needs to shift to a new paradigm, but what is stopping us and how can we do this? In 2015, 193 world leaders signed up to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in order to achieve a more prosperous, peaceful, and sustainable world by the year 2030. We have the technology, we have the people and if we have the money but can we make this target? Romi Sumaria and Aarti Shah explore some of the biggest challenges that we face to meet these goals, share the real stories of what is being done on the ground and speak to inspiring individuals and organisations that are leading the way in delivering impact. read less

S02E11: Lessons from Nature
Sep 6 2022
S02E11: Lessons from Nature
Nature is constantly seeking equilibrium through self-regulation and regeneration. Humans, on the other hand, have been depleting Earth’s resources, and cities, the fastest growing environment on the planet, have become the epitome of this self-defeating behaviour. We no longer feel accountable for the water we drink, or the heatwaves and floods that are becoming increasingly present.In this episode we explore how the power of nature must help repair and regenerate cities and their residents.“We need to think, build and behave in cycles as ecosystems do,” says Laura Shiels. This means observing and understanding water, nutrients, minerals and all living organisms, and incorporating their processes into our technologies. Fort Collins in Colorado, US, has mitigated flooding through green spaces that naturally absorb water - and also attract deer, rabbits and birds. Shanghai wetlands in China use nature to clean and manage water pollution.Government needs to mainstream and incentivise nature - even if this means making a U-turn on existing policies. Examples include beekeeping, pollinator gardens and growing native foods and medicinal species on roofs and walls.Then there is innovation. Utilising plants’ ability to efficiently capture sunlight and energy could eliminate the mining of finite resources. At the end of their lifecycle, these bio-based solar panels would decompose into their natural substances.Richard James MacCowan sees not just an impact on individuals’ health and wellbeing, but also on the health system. “I want to value the benefits [of nature] to the reduction in, say, the need for people to go to the doctor,” he says.If we learn from nature, we will allow urban ecosystems - including the humans within them - to thrive rather than struggle to survive.Speakers:Richard James MacCowan, Founder and Creative Director,  Biomimicry Innovation LabLaura Shiels, SVP of Agriculture: Research, Education & Community Outreach, VidaLuz Development
S02E10: Cities, Arts & Culture
Aug 17 2022
S02E10: Cities, Arts & Culture
Cities attract and preserve our heritage, but the arts can be one of the first casualties during austere times. Now, a wave of polarisation has left us with few places where we can engage in difficult, nuanced conversations that are not black and white. For cities embroiled in or emerging from conflict, the arts can be that conciliatory grey area. The arts can also allow people to learn from the past and make the marginalised visible.On the flip side, creative people are often outliers, easily stigmatized by society, even in large, anonymous cities. While inclusivity is now fashionable, protecting performance and visual artists requires authenticity. In this regard, the unfolding digital art world is providing new opportunities. To make sure nobody is left behind, though, cities must make resources and education available, regardless of whether they are in the global south or the global north.In this episode we look at how the visual and performance arts and culture are shaping cities in the 21st century. We explore how and where culture is supported, and what that means to its accessibility. We also look at what happens to cities that undergo significant political shifts and how we must consciously allow the arts to thrive in today’s competing priorities.Speakers:Aniela Coveleski, Business Representative, SAG-AFTRAShona McCarthy, CEO, Edinburgh Fringe FestivalAdiam Gafoo, COO, Arts HelpLinks:A Discussion on Art and Gentrification in New YorkA Discussion on the Making of Bushwick
S02E09: Urban Waste Management
Aug 9 2022
S02E09: Urban Waste Management
A growing middle class has meant more disposable income; more spending has generated more waste, and that waste is more complex. This is increasingly recognised as unsustainable as natural resources are diminishing and ‘old’ infrastructure such as landfills are falling out of favour. At the same time, the general public is understanding - and experiencing - climate change more. Cities must tackle waste in a way that is socially, environmentally and economically viable. So what next?Firstly, “No man is an island,” as Mie Johnson states. Municipalities can collaborate with - and incentivise - civil society and the private sector, and share learnings. And no two cities are the same. Swati Singh Sambyal showcases Ambikapur and much-vaunted Indore. Their diametrically opposite approaches, one multi-stakeholder, including women’s self-help groups,  and the other capital-intensive and centralised, have both been successful - but it has taken years. Then, as Andrea Basilova stated, consumers need not be passive. If enough of us boycott a product, the manufacturer will not make it.Secondly, data provides transparency for all stakeholders, not least producers, who can track and trace waste streams. Andrea has created a successful business on the back of this.Thirdly, new policies such as extended producer responsibility will require manufacturers to invest in the ‘downstream’ system. Recycling is not a silver bullet, even if countries are introducing targets. Companies may well look to designing waste out as far as possible, tackling the ‘upstream’, as Swati calls it. Deposit return schemes have been re-introduced.  It is now quite standard for city residents to pay in proportion to their waste. More recently, another incentive, paying according to how well you sort your waste, is taking off. Other levers include landfill taxes.Transitions take time, but by combining policy, technology and education, and showcasing best practices, we can move the needle on circular and regenerative practices. We can also demonstrate the investment case and turn a cost centre into a revenue- and resource-generating one.
S02E08: Re-Thinking Mobility
Aug 2 2022
S02E08: Re-Thinking Mobility
Urban mobility must tackle an over-reliance on automobiles, which has led to both sprawl and inequity of access to amenities and opportunities, if it is to re-invent itself. Like other utilities such as water, what may have suited cities to date will not be sustainable in the face of growing populations and a changing climate.  Swapping out private fossil fuel cars with electric and autonomous ones is not viable.While digital technology can make transport systems safer and more efficient, we are also updating 200 year-old technology. Electrified micro-mobility to transport people and goods could play a significant role, as we are starting to see in the global north, as long as it is supported by high quality, segregated cycling infrastructure.Citizens, particularly in the global south, are already spending on informal, often unregulated private transport. Governance - the public sector taking accountability - could divert this into integrated mass transit systems. Governments should also enable safe, inclusive spaces and allow urban residents to have access to all the benefits of the city.Speakers:Laura Fox, General Manager, Citi Bike,  Lyft Bikes and ScootersDavid Zipper, Visiting Fellow,  Harvard Kennedy SchoolDorina Pojani, Senior Lecturer, University of QueenslandLinks:Hustle & Bustle podcast: Ep.18 Dorina Pojani - Brisbane's car-free community on Apple PodcastsMicromobility podcast interview, New York Times "Popularity of Ebikes Isn't Slowing Down", TED TalkWhat's Up With That: Building Bigger Roads Actually Makes Traffic Worse | WIRED
S02E07: Powering Our Cities
Jul 24 2022
S02E07: Powering Our Cities
Much of our global greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution come from energy used in cities. Transportation and buildings, in particular, are energy-intensive sectors, as Dr Jan Rosenow states.Transitioning away from fossil fuels is not straightforward, no matter where we are in the world. Godwin Aigbokhan refers to the Nigerian ‘funnel’, where less than 4 GW of the 13 GW electricity generated gets distributed. As a result, there are millions of oversized diesel generators. Dr Jemma Green contrasts this with Germany, which has a high penetration of renewables, but also high electricity costs and carbon emissions due to its grid design and stabilisation requirements.We are now having to change all the wheels - figuratively - after the airplane has taken off. We must move to low carbon sources and tackle efficiency, which includes using energy that is produced, but currently not consumed. We must also look to storage, and to making dispatchable alternatives scalable and cost-effective. Jan sees green hydrogen as potentially playing an important role here, not least in high temperature applications in industry.Both Jemma and Jan talk about the importance of when and where electricity is generated and utilised. Jemma recommends time- and place-based price signals, increasing renewable energy supply only where it matches demand, deploying storage, enabling close proximity trading, and having a more cellular, efficient grid. Shifting from a centralised to a peer-to-peer distributed model is a major urban opportunity. Blockchain-based technology can enable energy communities where electricity - and even the payment - travels shorter distances. Jemma’s company Powerledger is implementing solutions in the global north and south.Aside from physical and digital infrastructure, all three speakers talked about policy, with Europe as the “learning laboratory”, to quote Jan. This includes net metering, smart electricity tariffs based on supply and demand, carbon pricing, and product efficiency. We need ways to increase renewables without wasting energy, making it unaffordable or indeed creating more backlash and knee-jerk reactions from consumers and industry.Speakers:Godwin Eni Aigbokhan - Former Head of Energy and Environment Competence Center, Delegation of German Industry and Commerce in Nigeria, AHKDr Jan Rosenow - Principal and European Programme Director, Regulatory Assistance ProjectDr Jemma Green - Executive Chairman & Co-Founder, PowerledgerLinks:UN Habitat on Future of Energy
S02E06: Access to Clean Water
Jun 29 2022
S02E06: Access to Clean Water
Whether it is New York City, Mexico City or Ho Chi Minh City, enabling equitable access to clean drinking water, and adequate drainage and storm run-off must overcome multiple challenges.Burgeoning urban populations need increasing amounts of water, but the changing climate is impacting primary sources. “What we have considered sustainable water management for decades is untenable when we consider continuing pressures on supply and quality,” Dr Anna Robuck warns us. Enrique Iomnitz explains the “perverse” vicious cycle of Mexico’s leaky grid. As in many Global South cities, supplying water intermittently reduces water loss, but when the flow stops, the pressure causes even more leaks - exacerbated by earthquakes.Regenerative systems operate on a circular budget with more limited releases of water than the linear model industrialised countries are accustomed to. Enabling safe regeneration - even beyond consumer servicing - requires upgraded infrastructure, and also trust. Balancing safety with sustainability is a challenge even in the United States, where policies do not take into account the slew of chemicals pouring out of households, farming and industry. Governance and funding are often key differentiators between the Global North and South, but cities such as Lingyuan in China are leading the way.The new generation of solutions need to treat water at a lower energy and chemical cost. The ‘sponge city’ concept and retaining increasingly heavy rains are starting to be taken on. To scale and speed up solutions, academics need to collaborate more closely with the private sector and governments. Local community engagement and education, public private partnerships and new distributed marketplaces for the commercial sector, as demonstrated by Romain Joly and Enrique Iomnitz’s enterprises, must also be integrated. Speakers:Dr. Anna Robuck, Researcher, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount SinaiEnrique Lomnitz, Co-Founder & Director, Isla UrbanoRomain Joly, CEO at O-We Water Vietnam & Director of business development at 1001fontaines
S02E03: Technology and Cities
May 16 2022
S02E03: Technology and Cities
Information and telecommunications infrastructure is our most recent urban amenity. Today, wireless voice, data and Internet connectivity and increasingly digital transmission are enabling new types of economic and community interaction. In this episode, we discuss how information and communications technology (ICT) can shape the urban environment, and how cities can create opportunities for ICT. To quote Dr Maria Lema, the ‘Smart City’ should be one which “improves efficiency and provides a better quality of life for all citizens.” For this, we need to address challenges, from a lack of standardisation and processes, to lagging infrastructure and domineering telecoms providers, to technology negatively impacting the climate. Digital infrastructure and technologies must be accessible and affordable if they are to create employment opportunities, improve quality of life, and manage resources for all. Data is what makes a city smart. It helps optimise - and even democratise - services such as transport and healthcare. 5G, with its lower cost of ownership, is changing the way cities operate. A local authority can provide services without relying on traditional network operators. Through artificial intelligence, as Briana Brownell states, there could be fundamental changes in how we live our lives from birth, but citizens must be engaged so that they are able to have agency. This is starting to change. In all these areas, policy and financing need to be strategic, and mindful of the contexts in which the technology operates. In summary, when deployed well, ICT enables cities to make judicious use of the planet’s resources and creates new, equitable social and economic openings and interactions.Speakers:Briana Brownell, CEO,  Pure Strategy Inc.Dr Maria Lema, Co-Founder, Weaver Labs
S02E02: Re-Imagining Governance
May 9 2022
S02E02: Re-Imagining Governance
In episode 2, we focus on re-inventing governance for urban ecosystems of the 21st century through the cities of Rotterdam and Mumbai.Bas Boorsma speaks about our undergoing a transition - from the hollowing out of the middle class to a complex digital transformation that is creating new employment opportunities, and eliminating old ones. The transition is also about actively engaging, preparing and motivating citizens from diverse backgrounds. We discuss what types of structures and policies enable regeneration and inclusivity. Streamlining and collaboration within government are needed, but so is partnership with broader society. Power should be devolved as close as possible to city residents, as long as it comes with the capacity and funding for it to be effective. Even where power is fractured across different levels of government, as is the case of Mumbai, democratic legitimacy should come through a bottom-up citizen participatory approach commingled with more traditional top-down instruments. Design-led technology can contribute to this.The Covid-19 pandemic has made the government - and the middle classes - realise “the city works on the shoulders of migrants”, to quote Dr Anita Patil-Deshmukh. Shocks such as this may impact policy. More generally, though, we must be more nimble. While self-governance has a role, start-ups and scale-ups on the ground hold important insights. Regulators can support innovators while protecting what is best and fairest for society at large.  “Agile is one of those magic ingredients for preparing our cities for our next phase of transition and success,” says Bas.Resources:https://decidim.org/ - free open-source participatory democracy platform for cities and organizationshttp://pukar.org.in/Speakers:Bas Boorsma, Chief Digital Officer,  City of RotterdamDr Anita Patil-Deshmukh, Executive Director, PUKAR: Youth & Urban Knowledge, Urbanism, Research Programme, Barefoot Researchers