Building with BRICS

A late dinner among a few faculty in a Johannesburg airport seafood restaurant — as likely a place as any for the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (CLiGS) to begin embracing the notion of the BRICS. The BRICS acronym — for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — spawned from the need to represent the geopolitical bloc these five emerging economies represented on the world stage. Able to form a political and financial alternative to the Washington Consensus, these five countries also represented quite diverse cultures, global locations, and local sustainability challenges. At the same time, they jointly typified some of the most pressing issues en route to the world of 2050: increasing energy demands, drivers of and impacts from climate change, opportunities and concerns posed by a rising global middle class, water quantity and quality, biodiversity, food security; the list goes on. What better places for a group like CLiGS to start working?

There are dozens of such global framings (G8, G8+5, G20, the post-Cold War G-2, and even a G-Zero future world), each constructed in an attempt to sort and categorize the nations of the world according to similarities of interest and identity. In 2013 CLiGS added two other countries — Indonesia and Turkey — to its BRICS equation, creating the BRICS-IT. These seven countries alone represent 46% of the world’s population, more than 25% of the globe’s land area, 44% of its carbon dioxide emissions, and 1/5 of the world’s total gross domestic product. Collectively—along with our work in the US — these states provide fertile ground for teaching, learning, and exploration of the CLiGS theme: Leadership for Sustainability.

But this book is not meant to photo-document the sustainability challenges and successes in these places. Nor is it a photo essay of the cultural complexity and environmental variability of these seven countries. It’s goal is more modest: to share some of the most photogenic places in which I’ve had the privilege to have worked over the last five years, and some musings on these seven countries. I hope to share some of the BRICS-IT as I see them. Think of this as a bit of a hedonistic visual journey, with a smidgen of learning along the way. Enjoy.