Getting Action: Crowdsourcing to the rescue! Looking for the Charles Lindbergh of sustainable development

Dear Readers: 

The Democracy Center’s working relationship with the United Nations began five years ago in Montenegro, where I did a series of advocacy trainings for the staff at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). These were folks wickedly committed to development that is equitable, environmentally responsible and economically competitive, and were involved in helping save their nation’s beloved Tara River from development.  One avid and able UN campaigner is Milica Begovic Radojevic, who I have been fortunate to work with since. In this Getting Action post we bring you an article, and call for participation, that Milica wrote for us about how the UNDP is using an old strategy reborn — “crowd sourcing” — as a way to generate new ideas on how to make global development sustainable in the face of climate change.  We hope you enjoy this post from the Balkans, and look forward to hearing your ideas!

Jim Shultz - Executive Director


Crowdsourcing to the rescue: looking for the Charles Lindbergh of sustainable development

By Milica Begovic Radojevic, UNDP in Montenegro

In 1919, famed New York hotelier Raymond Orteig offered a $25,000 prize for anyone who would dare fly solo across the Atlantic. It was a bold dare. In accepting the challenge, Charles Lindbergh paved the way toward transoceanic air travel and proved that crowd-sourcing can be a powerful method for reaching out to people in the hope of finding solutions to the most difficult problems facing humanity.


Almost a century later in the run up to Rio+20, where world leaders are meeting to renew their commitment to sustainable development, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is preparing to crowd-source a challenge relating to sustainable development. Are the challenges of (un)sustainable development as important as our inability to fly across the ocean 100 years ago? Infinitely more so and here is why.

The way global economies have been developing is no longer a viable option – for people, for the economy itself and for the environment.

To a large extent, this is the case because we can’t shake the addiction to dirty energy. The price we pay for it doesn’t reflect the cost it inflicts by polluting the air, water, and soil, depleting natural reserves, not to mention the cost to human health.

On top of this, governments subsidize fossil fuels, sending all the wrong signals and creating many unintended consequences. One such consequence is that keeping prices low provides the least benefits to the poor who, for example, are not very likely to live in large homes and do not therefore consume as much energy.

The other by-product is the scientific link between greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and extreme weather events. By subsidizing fossil fuels and incentivizing their use, governments around the world are contributing to the increase of frequency and intensity of these extreme events. It is usually the poorest and most vulnerable communities that suffer the most from this consequence, being generally more exposed to the effects of e.g. droughts and flooding, and also the least prepared to cope.

And for all the subsidies, domestic energy prices continue to rise. McKinsey’s Resource Revolution argues that this trend is likely to continue because:

  1. There is an interlinked relationship between the resources – you need water to generate energy and grow food – so a stress on one resource will be transferred to another.
  2. With up to three billion people projected to join the middle class, we can no longer say with certainty that the traditional supply of resources can satisfy our appetites for more without additional risks, costs and consequences. And guess who suffers the most when the price of food, water and energy go up?

So not only are subsidies increasingly ineffective in keeping the prices artificially low, they are chipping away at the Governments’ ability to invest in social programs and create new jobs. This is all the more critical today as an increasing number of people are facing malnutrition, and a lack of access to basic services. This traps people living in poverty, as they are unable to make the changes necessary to build better lives for themselves.

Does the compulsion to subsidize fossil fuels play a role in rising inequality? This could be the topic of a whole other blog, but what we see today is that the world is indeed becoming less equal. And what we do know is that more inequality leads to more social problems, such as higher rates of infant mortality, homicide, imprisonment, and lower life expectancy, math and literacy, and trust within the society.

But I digress. Back to fossil fuel subsidies – they act as a barrier to investment in clean energy, in universal access to, and efficient use of, resources.

Out of 1.3 billion people globally who don’t have access to electricity, at least 3 million of them live in transition and OECD (Organization for Economic Development and Transition) countries. Can you imagine a life without electricity? Telling a bedtime story to your child – only by the light of a candle! How do you fight poverty without electricity? You don’t, or rather can’t.

So this is a shout out to engineers, urban planners, investment managers, research and development groups, and economists.

Renewable energy use in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States is among the lowest in the world. Heavy reliance on fossil fuels, 88 percent of the primary energy supply according to Human Development Report 2011, is not good news for health.  Armenia, Bulgaria, and Romania lead the world in deaths from outdoor air pollution. So, now you are poor and sick.

We are calling out to the scientists, meteorologists, engineers, mechanical and electrical technicians.

Europe and CIS is the world’s leader in energy inefficiency – one euro of GDP takes more energy to produce than in any other part of the world. This means more pollution and more subsidies. We are on the look-out for the behavioural experts, marketing gurus, architects, and the technology innovators.

So, to wrap up. Fossil fuels that drive our economies are bad for our health, bad for the environment, bad for society (inequality?) and increasingly bad for the economy itself. Subsidizing fossil fuels prevents investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy access for those who badly need it.

The scale of the problem is overwhelming and the solution goes beyond the capacities of any single government or private sector company. It goes beyond the civil sector, any one individual or development organization. It requires collaboration and the convergence of knowledge, resources, and commitment.

So what do we do? Well one thing we can do is try to draw out the expertise buried in the crowds. And this is what UNDP is attempting to do. Our first mission: to frame a good challenge that will effectively address an aspect – or aspects – of un-sustainable development.

One possible challenge candidate asks: What is the solar power equivalent of a $100 laptop? Access to inexpensive information technology revolutionizes education in poor countries. Access to inexpensive solar power would revolutionize development as we know it.

So as we continue in the quest to frame this challenge, maybe you could help out with some good ideas? Just remember, we are on the look-out for the Charles Lindbergh of sustainable development! And stay tuned….

Can you help Milica and the UNDP develop an effective challenge to find solutions for sustainable development? Please leave your ideas in the Comments section below (see comments policy) – and encourage your innovative friends to read and participate. 





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25 Responses to Getting Action: Crowdsourcing to the rescue! Looking for the Charles Lindbergh of sustainable development

  1. Eric says:

    The examples of CIS states, Bulgaria, Romania you offer are remnants of the Soviet legacy. Is Russia creating any incentives for those governments to “clean up their act”? The challenge isn’t as clear-cut as it was for Lindbergh and perhaps more vital are the Raymond Orteigs of the world…

    • Millie says:

      Eric, fair comment- i agree that one of the potential issues is where to start with (un)sustainable development and that the answer is muddled because of competing and entrenched interests. But some aspects of the problem are clear cut (and this comment will fly straight in the face of the other comment on the blog)- subsidizing fossi fuels does not make economic, environmental or social sense. That seems like a fair place to start, and i read today that Obama is calling for subsidies cuts (

      Thx for your comment!

      • Anonymous says:

        Millie, I don’t agree with subsidizing taxpayer $$$ for oil exploration or extraction, but I don’t agree with subsidizing taxpayer $$$ for solar,geothermal, wind, or nuclear energy either. The Obama subsidized Solyndra debacle is the perfect example how far away viable and affordable “alternative energy” is.
        By the way, the computer you’re using is partially made with petroleum. Since when do computers don’t make economic, environmental, or social sense?

        • Dian says:

          Hurdles in using solar power:1. It’s affected by time(day/night), icamltic conditions and geographic location.2. Initial Investments are high.3. All technological developments are made by keeping the conventional energy sources in mind. Thus, solar energy cannot be integrated easily with these technologies involving additional cost.Cons of nuclear energy:1. Disposal of radioactive waste material is not easy.2. Working with radioactive substance is hazardous and can cause genetic mutations in humans if they come in contact with such a substance.3. Controlled reactors are required for generating energy so that the fission chain reaction does not go out of proportion.4. Radioactive material is rare and available only in a few places of the world.

        • Andrea says:

          Fossil fuels have been relatively cheap for the last two hudrned years. Only recently has the true cost been appreciated. Until the greenhouse gas problem was discovered, nobody assumed that there was any cost to dumping carbon dioxide into the air. That is, the fossil fuel users have assumed that the disposal of the exhaust gases was free.The other point is that a lot of the renewable sources of energy require high technology, e.g., hydroelectric dams, advanced windmills and solar electric generating systems.

      • Vandana says:

        Environmentally sustainable econimoc development is a process of developing econimoc value that includes what traditional econimoc development considers external costs (costs not incurred by the developer). It holistic in its development approach and makes distinctions between mining activities and farming activities. For instance planting a crop that has market value yet removes biomass from the soil (typical corporate farming) is not actually farming, but mining — Not to mention not sustainable.

    • Ben says:

      Very much dependent on the sipiefcc engineering of the wind turbine. You are losing energy to friction, so the mechanics of the device are very important. All of that is not a consideration for fossil fuels becase the earth has done most of the conversion already by using gravity (i.e., pressure), which is basically infinitely available. If you are thinking not in terms of energy cost, but financail cost, then you really need to think about the supply chain. A single high-effeicncy wind turbine might cost $5MM to build, but there is operational cost, land cost, distribution and storage costs. All of that is baked into the end user price of a gallon of processed fossil fuels. I don’t know the sipiefcc numbers, but I do know that none of the wind farms would be profitable without the government subsidies that they are getting ATM.That chart of 1996 California date someone posted showing that wind is the lowest cost seems highly suspect to me at a minimum it is looking at regulatory compliance costs for things like nuclear and fossil feuls, not just the cost of generating and delivering the energy. That is the problem with data “sound bites”, they are a little to easy to quote without thinking about them.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Climate change? Climate has been changing for billions of years. So what?
    Solar energy costs too much and is unreliable,wind energy kills millions of birds and bats and ruins the vista of the pretty shores, and thermal energy makes ugly holes in MOther Earth for almost no return. Nuclear power? Look at Japan.

    I love oil…just like Evo and Chavez and Correa and the Cubans and the Russkies and the Arabs and the Canadians and everybody else in the world heating their homes and using automobiles.

    Why??? Because oil is the most affordable energy source available. As simple as that.

    • Ahmed says:

      I think this is reflective of a glraer problem – that the city discourages middle class folks of all races from staying due to substandard education options. I’m a middle class urban dweller and facing the issue of where to send my kids to school. I’d PREFER a public school that reflected the society around me, but it simply doesn’t exist except maybe in charter schools (which have a hugely inadequate number of slots and are almost impossible to get into). So my choices are: A) Very poor under-performing monoracial public schools, or B) Extremely expensive slightly-less-monoracial private schools. My family is encouraging me to leave for the suburbs where you can get a good public education in a more economically/racially diverse school. Jefferson Parish, for instance, was ranked by Teach For America as the most racially diverse public school system in SE LA. But I’m a city person, and don’t want to leave. The better schools are so tempting though.

      • Daan says:

        Look at the current sitiutaon of the U.S. Economy. Look at the unemployment rate. There are no jobs! The U.S. has a huge debt to China. Americans have no faith in their own automobile industry. Why can’t GM, Ford, and Chrysler make fuel efficient vehicles? Americans are consuming too much oil and do not how to be economical and efficient. American are driving too many gas guzzling cars. There needs to be more train systems available as well. Make recycling mandatory!

    • Rizky says:

      If the electricity is aeeergtnd by renewable sources such as wind turbines, solar panels, or hydroelectric, then there is no carbon footprint and you are far better off than running a gasoline (petrol) powered vehicle. If the electricial comes from a nuclear plant, again, zero carbon footprint. How about if the electricity is aeeergtnd by a coal fired electricity station? Well, you are actually still going to generate less carbon dioxide, which may surprise you. The plug in vehicle will charge its batteries overnight usually, a non-peak period for the coal plant. And electrical power is so much more efficient than gasoline- gasoline creates heat, but very little of the energy released actually moves the wheels of your car.

      • Corey says:

        So much for the green jobs’ from our golly gee whiz president. The comnapy that owns this plant the Pres was speaking in has shut down an older plant and has cancelled expansion of this plant. It could not survive the market. The $533 million from our tax payer dollars was invested vain. That is why govt should not try to pick and choose which industries to finance and which to destroy. 40 workers were layed off and 150 temps were sent home.

  3. Mitrovic Aleksandar says:

    Milice great, you got the point!

    • Volkan says:

      One word to describe the Obama engrey policy-dumbass. Libya is not the reason the oil prices are going up; Pres Obama is. No other country in the world would be stupid enough not to use its own natural resource. This left wing looney progressive socialistic flavored adminstration has made this country more dependant on overseas oil. We have shut down the gulf drilling, left thousands unemployed, we shut down drilling everywhere for his stupid golly gee’ dreams of future’ green’ jobs. Damn.

    • Shayista says:

      1 /2 Obama stop offshore dilirlng until it was reinstated. This could cause a $5 a gallon increase, because we would grow dependent upon foreign nations we are not allies with in order to provide our oil. Cap and Trade (American Power Act) would increase gas prices increase by $2.58 a gallon according to George C. Marshall Institute taxes on the average household up to $3200 according to the RNC Foreign countries price gouge w/ gas prices to $10/gal!..Allen West 2012

  4. Barbara says:

    Thank you for posing the question.
    We are facing a global paradigm in a
    shift for Humanity. More reasons already
    stated. We, The People, have an opportunity
    to start creating what We want. Localize,
    create jobs through giving and don’t expect
    large changes in alternative energy & the
    mulinationals (oil companies & goverment officials)
    sort like asking “a rabbit to deliver the lettuce.”
    Cloud Implementation will help drive success
    from Cloudstorming. Connect the no oddities.
    Just Saturday thoughts to share.

    being asked to deliver the lettuce.”

    • Barbara says:

      correction to my posting.

      Connect the nonprofit at each delivery point
      An example: Permaculture knowledgeshare,
      New Study Program Libraries like Occupy,
      Prepare for a better world at your local level
      and participate in the global communities that
      plant the seeds for the next generation.

    • Gloria says:

      I’m sorry, but I do not know exactly what u are saikng. please try to add more specific detail to your question and then I mights be able to help you. you are always welcome to Email Matt Pucher at ! however, this website is more accurate than my Email, so please, try not to use my Email.

    • Xolo says:

      Humanity as a whole doesn’t have long-term vision, so will use wtheaver is cheapest until it becomes painfully obvious that another alternative will be cheaper in the very near future.Fossil fuels have been historically cheap. People WILL switch, when they get more expensive relative to other forms of energy. This must happen eventually, as the supply of fossil fuel is limited. When gas goes to $ 10 a gallon, a lot more people are going to go for alternate-fuel vehicles.

      • Azez says:

        Yes. Here’s how the cycle works:Plans use photo synthesis to aosbrb solar energy through their leaves (I’ll skip the chemistry involved). That energy is then used for a variety of organic processes. The key one is that plants use the energy to break down carbon dioxide they take in from the atmosphere. They then combine the carbon obtained with hydrogen and other materials they get from the soiil they grow in to build compounds that make up the structure of the plant most importantly for what you are talking about the wod that makes up tree trunks, stems, branchees,e tc. When wood is burned, ithe carbon is recombined with oxygen from the air . This releases the energy that the plant originally put into seperating out the carbon in the first place producing heat, light and recreating the CO2 the plant originally removed from the atmosphere.The same fundamental process is at the base of burning any organic compound including oil or coal which, millions of years ago, started as prehistoric plants.

  5. Edwin says:

    Solar panels are very eenxpsive and the art of making them is far from perfect. This is not to mention that they are not effective in all areas of the world, and they are probably not effective all year round (depending on where they are placed). Our economy relies heavily on fossil fuels. While researching and financing alternative energy resources would probably create more (and more contemporary/practical) jobs than they eliminated, the transition into an economy using alternative energy resources will take quite a long time. Many personnel must be trained in the development, construction, and installing of the panels.The actual collection of solar power is not detrimental to the environment (i.e. releasing greenhouse gases), but the products to which the energy flows, and how those products are used, can still be hazardous to the environment.

    • Gustav says:

      On est responsable du ge2chi aceutl en ce qui a trait e0 l’environnement. C’est donc e0 nous d’agir pour ralentir le processus de destruction de la couche d’ozone. Les industries, les usines, les transports ae9riens, de meame que tous les ve9hicules employe9s pour ame9liorer notre survie ou nos loisirs sont souvent une plus grande source de pollution, mais que font-ils?? C’est de9courageant, toutefois, e0 l’image de M.Layton, il faut continuer de se battre sans rele2che.

    • Carmen says:

      It shows what humans did to help with htniurg and polluting the earth. We can not wait for God to clean it up, he didn’t make the mess we did! Big bussiness and nations that let them get away with it hurt the earth more and faster that family and single people, but everyone has to help, or its our own fault. God gave us this planet shouldn’t we take care or it as if it was our own body? Its time to Stop poisioning and htniurg ourselves now.

  6. Samir says:

    Ting tager tid derfor er det aulosbt imponerende at Samsf8 er ne5et se5 langt som vedvarende energi-f8 som f8en nu er.Men det er se5 ogse5 frustrerende, at kendskabet til Samsf8 som vedvarende energi-f8 tilsyneladende er stf8rre i udlandet end herhjemme. Hvor meget kan man le6se i de landsde6kkende aviser om energi-eventyret? Man me5 ty til Samsf8 Posten, som vi godt nok er en del ogse5 fritidssamsinger der le6ser, men alligevel!Sf8rens TV-udsendelse for 1-2 e5r siden gav sikkert pote, ligesom hans foredrag rundt i landet gf8r. Senest hf8rte jeg ham i vor lokale seniorhf8jskole (Munkebo Seniorhf8jskole) med et be5de spe6ndende og vittigt foredrag om Ildsje6le Det bedste til nu i dette eftere5rssemester, men pe5 spf8rgsme5let fra salen: om Samsf8 se5 var blevet et rigere og bedre samfund at leve i, kom der ingen kommetarer. Det er jo rigtigt som Holger d8ster Mortensen tilkendegiver: Samsf8 er pe5 vej nedad i den negative spiral. Befolkningstallet er faldet drastisk i de senere e5r. Butiksdf8d. Forfaldne huse, der for et par hundrede kroner kunne fe5 en gang kalk og tje6re hvis ejerne/lejerne gad! Osv.jeg har kun kendskab til en dansk mindre f8, der har kunnet vende udviklingen. Strynf8 her er befolkningstallet fordoblet indenfor de senere e5t til 200. Der er skole pe5 den lille f8 med mange bf8rn og over 20 foreninger. Hvad kan de pe5 Strynf8, som andre ikke kan?. De har bd times fe6rgeoverfart til fastlandet Rudkf8bing, men det er ne6ppe her at arbejdspladserne he6nger pe5 tre6erne .Se5 alt i alt den positive energi-f8 spiral skal te6nkes ind i en stf8rre kontext. Nemt sagt men nok sve6rt (le6s: udfordrende) at gennemff8re.