Posts Tagged ‘sustainable development’

This was one of discussion questions of the Disasters and Ecosystems MOOC.

Actually the answer is simple. The formula for successful environmental degradation consists of 2 variables – overpopulation and capitalism.

When there are a lot of people – most of them a poor, uneducated and hungry. When you are hungry you will do everything to become less hungry today even if it can potentially lead to negative consequences tomorrow, which you may not even foresee if you are uneducated.

Humans are good in adaptation. When the adaptation is strong enough it leads to abuse (for example, if you are well adopted at the stock market you start abusing it to increase your profit even if it will cost dearly to the other stakeholders – people value their own well-being much more than the other’s and of course much more than the well-being of environment especially when they know that their own impact seems negligible compared to impact of the entire population).  When you live in condition of free market of capitalistic world – you are your only hope for not being hungry (or being more wealthy) now. And as you know from the economic theory – the capitalist economy needs a constant grows of consumption and production – so you need more and more resources to just sustain the economy. In conditions of capitalist market people value today’s profit much more than losses of tomorrow

You see – the capitalist economy needs people to consume more and more; more people – more consumption; more people – more poverty and lack of education; more hungry uneducated people people – more people willing to do anything to survive now and don’t even bother themselves about the future.

Overpopulation and a consumption society (created by capitalist economy) inter-stimulate each other and destroy the environment for the today’s profits or food and doesn’t care much of the consequences of tomorrow because most are either uneducated or doesn’t care at all plus you have to live through today to face consequences of your actions tomorrow (a day-by-day living).

Obviously there are 3 steps to improve the situation:

  • Decrease the population.
  • Educate people.
  • Create new sustainable economy model that would equally value tomorrow’s losses and today’s profits, and would not rely on constantly increasing consumption.

I enrolled a MOOC titled “Disasters and Ecosystems: Resilience in a Changing Climate” which is organised by the UNEP (and other organisations… which names I’m going to learn by heart cause they have like 2 minutes of credits after each lecture O_o ). Not that I know nothing about disasters, risks or climate change (I’m a geographer and ecologist after all), but I was curious about the product that was made by organisation of this class.

The third video (and first video that is not an introduction) they teach us about the disasters; differences between hazard and disaster; and risks. Well… the thing they told, the graphs they showed – that what inspired the title of this post.


Here see some definitions they use.

Disaster. When they say “disaster” they mean “natural disaster” that was enhanced by human [mismanagement].

Risk – a potential losses due to disasters.

Hazard – A dangerous phenomenon, substance, human activity or condition that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, property damage, loss of livelihoods and services, social and economic disruption, or environmental damage.

Exposure – People, property, systems, or other elements present in hazard zones that are thereby subject to potential losses.

Vulnerability – the characteristics and circumstances of a community, system or asset that make it susceptible to the damaging effects of a hazard


The risk

They presented a “great” formula for (a disaster) risk evaluation that they use in the UN:
Risk = Hazard * Exposure * Vulnerability
where: Exposure = People * ExposureTime
Vulnarability – succeptability to hazard.
Well these characteristics do correspond to the risk, but the formula is stupid! I already wrote about that: Risk = Probability * Damage. And this formula actually corresponds to the definition they give (see Terminology section). We can’t get a monetary outcome from their formula. We can’t get numeric numeric output out of that formula at all: can you multiply flood by people? Can you???!!!

A Disaster with Disasters

The fail with the risk evaluation is a common mistake, but the fail with disaster – that is what really cool!
Take a look at this plot (which is from reading materials from the course):

What can you conclude from this plot? That the world is doing to hell and we all will fall to disaster? Let’s look closer. The exposure is growing faster for poorer countries (and it is the only conclusion they make in lecture)… but the total number of people exposed (and for each type of countries) seems to be the almost unchanged! Interesting… This means (see the definition for the exposure) that there are just a 150% increase of property value in the dangerous area of the poorer countries (and 25% for the richest) on a span of 30 years. Does this graph shows us only the economic grows? I think it does… (reminds me of my previous post).
Now to the most delicious part. Take a look at this two graphs from the lecture readings:
Deaths dynamics


Damage dynamics
This is interesting. Despite the population growth and all that questionable “climate change” staff people die less (in total numbers), see fig. 1, but the damage increases, see fig. 2. Did they take inflation into account for the damage graph? Do not know… I think they didn’t, otherwise they would use “discounted damage” term instead of just “damage” and would indicate the base year. So the second graph seems to demonstrate inflation and may be the economic grows.
Clearly disasters are not that disastrous. Despite the new on the TV on the subject the nature’s wrath even enhanced by human is less and less dangerous for human lives. The pockets are to suffer: the storm in port wrecking the humble fisherman’s boat or a trawler – that’s the difference.


From these graphs I can conclude one thing – it is safer to live now than in the past, a disaster should not be feared as a deadly havoc. To my mind the disaster nowadays is entirely economic issue. See, if we loose less people and (maybe) more money – we should just develop more advanced insurance techniques to cover economic damage and relax. The disasters should just be studied as phenomena to develop cheap early warning systems, let the property be destroyed (just cover the losses with insurance) and additional employment to be created (rebuilding).
This is my conclusion form the graphs I showed here: the disaster is an ancient myth! Just buy insurance! LOL
There was a press conference on Tuesday the 19-th about illegal dumping in Leningrad region (Russia). I was asked to be the main speaker there and to present to the press my recent study on illegal dumping prevention. I’ve already had two presentations on this subject recently at the international scientific conference in St. Petersburg State University and at the round tablefor the discussion of the upcoming “Let’s do it. Russia” clean up event.Some video from the press conference:

The main conclusion that I made by investigating possible impacts on illegal dumping prevention (such as penalty increase, chance of being caught increase and waste disposal fare decrease) is that decrease of the waste disposal fare for population is the most efficient way. And I managed to find two other publications that came to the exact conclusion (for example, there is an evidence that 1% waste fare increase leads to 3% increase of illegal dumping cases).

By the way I was able to assess probability of being caught for illegal dumping in Russia. It is about 10-5 (you can die while playing soccer with such probability).

The only way to reduce waste fares is to use waste as a resource. That means that the only way to prevent illegal dumping is to create waste management system that would be able to complete the zero waste goal.

And here is an abstract from my article:

Mechanisms of the land protection were discussed in this article. An algorithm of decision making whether to dump illegally or not was explained. Formulas for determination of profitable ration of expenditures per unit and amount of illegally dumping waste are substantiated. Effect from different types of impacts that can be used for land protection from illegal dumping were discussed (such as fares change, penalties change, penalty application probability change). Decreasing of waste disposal fares was acknowledged as the most effective way for illegal dumping prevention, but it is possible only if «zero waste» concept is implemented.

It’s actually already two month old news, but my research “Developement of the Universal Methodology for Assessement of Environmental Risk Caused by Fires at Illegal Dumps” (download in RUSSIAN), that was made special for Fire Monitoring Challenge (by GIS-Lab, Microsoft, NEXTGIS, several universities and GIS/spatial data corporations), was  awarded the 2-nd pace. The prize consisted of the fancy diploma, Lenovo IdeaPad G560 (thanks to all the gods it became much less uglier when I’ve installed openSUSE at it and applied an OSM sticker 😉 ), a wireless mouse (my wife was happy to grab it) and a nice book on remote sensing for children.

Instead of abstract:

Developed methodology for assessment of the fire probability in dependence of spatial location and actual area of illegal dump. It is applicable for any part of the world. Software used: QGIS, R.

Spatial component of the probability of the fire at illegal dump in Leningrad region, Russia

I was lucky to present this research at two conferences and today I’ve received a printed “minor” publication of the article (it is beta-version of the paper available at the link above). So it is possible now to cite it as:

Yury V. Ryabov (2011) Razrabotka univercal’noy metodiki rascheta veroyatnosti vozniknovenia pozhara na nesankcionirovennoy svalke // Sbornik nauchnih trudov molodyh specialistov, prepodavateley i aspirantov po resultatam provedenia Tret’ego molodezрnogo ecologichescogo congressa “Severnaya palmira”, 21-22 noyabria 2011, Sankt-Peterburg. – SPb NICEB RAN – pp. 93-106.

To Do: develope formula for composition coefficient calculation; translation to English; major publication.

P.S. If you are interested in this research and do not speak Russian don’t hesitate to contact me and ask for general translation.

Current situation map (click to enlarge)

I decided to acquire a diploma of The Baltic University in Sustainable Town Planning master course. We had a practical task to study a district of St. Petersburg of our choice. Spatial planning is inconceivable without maps. But for every map you need a source and if the information in this source is incomplete you have to complete it yourself.


A noise pollution map (click to enlarge)

The plan was borne quickly. I already had a GPS (because if you are a geographer it isn’t cool not to have one); I was aware of the OpenStreetMap existence and already used its data provided by as a complete project for QGIS. All I needed is to take look at the district at OSM, add needed information to OSM and simply download ready to use base map from


Of course it wasn’t that simple (there were tagging issues in OSM, missing objects in ready to use projects, and the project had to be significantly customised), but in the end chosen district became one of the most detailed in St. Petersburg and I was able to create cool maps 😉


As a conclusion I would suggest for the spatial planning lecturers to use this practice of OSM utilisation through contribution for the student’s practical tasks: they will improve their GPS skills, their work will be useful for other people (OSM will became more comlete), also students will learn something about Creative Commons licenses and will learn how to attribute their maps properly.




Map for development (click to enlarge)


Excursion on the roof (prof. Berg is in the centre)

This time broadcast was mainly about the possibilities of the gardening on roofs of the city.  There were an excursion for Russian and Swedish students to the unique roof garden in St. Petersburg situated at Pulkovskaya st., 9 k.2, near Zvezdnaya metro station. Swedish students were led by prof. Berg from University Uppsala, who is the founder of Sustainable Town Planning master course for The Baltic University A Regional Network.

a green house

I supposed to take an interview with prof. Berg, but due to issues with TV-team and professor’s hour late arrival the plan was ruined. But still we were able to visit this garden on the roof. By the way, the professor was in the cowboy hat – I’ve never seen any professor in a cowboy hat before)))

There are some clickable pictures here, they will demonstrate how this garden looks like.

a random view


another random view


a random view again 😉


Back to the broadcast. The guest of the studio was an expert in land management related legislation and a director of something))) Unfortunately I don’t remember his name, but I wish I wrote it down. This guy will be the head of the Committee for Environmental Safety and Natural Resources in two or three month (of course he will – he is a member of talent pool and has a sighed recommendation from Gryzlov himself).

The committee “suffer” a loss of its top management due to corruption scandals (one was caught by the hand violating the law and another wasn’t able to explain how it is possible that his expenditures are far above his incomes). I’m glad that corruptionists were banished, because this committee was the worst place to visit. I know it for sure: they’ve emptied a shit tank on me… twice. The last time I was there, Delarov (the one who wasn’t able to explain expenditures) tried to extort money from me for the information on illegal dumping in Leningrad region.

Hope the committee will have a brighter future now.

Currently I have a part-time job in a small “institute” for spatial planing (I highly doubt that I will keep working for them any longer) as an ecologist. It has several challenges such as unappreciated and low paid labour; low overall qualification in GIS (despite a great deal of work related to GIS); top management do not give a fuck about quality of project, workers, etc. and only cares about deadlines; master plan creation != scientific approach; most of the are relatively cheep nowadays because all the big territories have their master plans.

Actually, the last point is a problem only in minds of top management and other workers – I have a different opinion. These small projects (for the smallest municipalities) are a great advantage to demonstrate an ultimate modern scientific, sustainable and open-minded approach to spatial planing and to develop skills of the young workers (more than 90% of employees are younger than 30). But the general approach for to this relatively cheap contracts is to do somewhat and somehow, they think that small municipalities (opposite to the entire regions) are not cool, that everything is the same there, they are not worthy efforts… And here the responsibility starts.

A lot of people are not aware about sustainable development. And I believe that most of people in spatial planing industry in Russia do not know what these words mean. The key words to understand sustainable development are “responsibility” (to nature and people) and “quality of life”: we are responsible for everything that happening around. We are  responsible for quality of our lives, quality of lives of people around, quality of lives of people we are working for (consumers of goods and services, provided by our labour)… And here responsibility starts.

A role of spatial planing in sustainability must be recognised – that’s where sustainable decisions should be implemented in the first place, because master plans are an official document and a basis for development of the region or municipality.

Pride is the most serious of the 7 deadly sins and the source for others. I’m an atheist but I can’t reject the wisdom. Isn’t pride the root of the opinion that small municipalities are not worthy efforts in spatial planning? Or the maybe it is stupidity?

Ok. Which of the following proud statements is more probable?

  1. We were able to create a solid, comprehensive land use plan for the entire region.
  2. We were able to create a solid, comprehensive land use plan for the local municipality.

Of course it is #2! Larger area guarantees only greater amount of work and a greater butthurt – not the greater achievements. Only spatial planing for the local municipalities (which seems significant on the global scale) is able to make a difference. Just think about it: creation of the spatial planing documentation is very expensive for small municipalities, so it will be too difficult (because it is expensive) for them to make changes in this documentation. Documentation on spatial planing is very important, because will determine development of this communities for the next couple of decades so if there is no good strategy proposed, then municipalities will suffer. On the other hand no good strategy will be proposed in the situation when the job is treated as unworthy. That means that shitty documentation will guarantee shitty life for small municipalities for the next 20 years.

It is another illustration of the principle that in the world driven by money reach will multiply their wealth and poor will grow poorer.


  1. Do not treat your clients as unworthy just because they do not have enough money to feed your greed, or the project is much smaller than your egotism.
  2. If you are unable to find a challenge in lesser project, it means you are not skilled or qualified enough for the job.
  3. Be responsible, especially if well-being of thousands of people depends on you.