Educate. Connect. Inspire

Educate. Connect. Inspire

Oct 2, 2011

sustainaBElity or NOT sustainaBElity

compiled by Livia Minca

Lately we witness more and more discussions and debates about “sustainability” and how to achieve “sustainable development”. But what does it mean exactly? Does it have to do with the environment? Is it about people and culture or jobs and money? Does it involve the world, the countries, the cities or the individuals? Or is it just something for other people to worry about?

Sustainability was first defined as "Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Bruntland Report for the World Commission on Environment and Development (1992)

Since then, there have been many variations and extensions on this basic definition. Many people even argue that it has been twisted to suit government and corporations that really want to continue with business as usual. Below are some points of view from various sources regarding to what would be the best way to look at sustainability.

"We cannot just add sustainable development to our current list of things to do but must learn to integrate the concepts into everything that we do." (The Dorset Education for Sustainability Network)

"A sustainable future is one in which a healthy environment, economic prosperity and social justice are pursued simultaneously to ensure the well-being and quality of life of present and future generations. Education is crucial to attaining that future." (Learning for a Sustainable Future - Teacher Centre)

"The first and perhaps most difficult problem, one that seldom gets addressed, is the time frame…Is a sustainable society one that endures for a decade, a human lifetime, or a thousand years?" (The shaky ground of Sustainable Development Donald Worster in Global Ecology 1993)

The theory sounds very good, but what about the practice? Increasingly our lifestyle is placing more and more pressure on natural systems. As it looks today, our society does not have the capacity to sustain itself on the long run – at least in such a way that the nine billion people expected on Earth by 2050 will all be able to achieve a basic quality of life. We are consuming so much, and so quickly, that we are already living far beyond the earth's capacity to support us. The planet's ecosystems are deteriorating and the climate is changing. So what will happen if the “uncertain” effects of climate change in the near future will turn out to be so severe as to impair people's capacity to meet their basic needs, like food? Climate change makes us more vulnerable than we already are and makes the road towards sustainability even rockier.

However, adopting a sustainable way of living is something at hand, something that we can do now that will benefit us in the future. And it does involve everyone, from countries, who could think up and implement sustainable policies (like fair trade or sustainable timber harvesting), to cities, who could introduce facilities for sustainable transport or waste collection and to individuals, who could integrate sustainable principles and actions into their daily habits (like not wasting water or buying mostly locally produced goods). All of these actions combined would give the Earth the possibility to regain its strength: forests to grow, air and water to clean themselves and future generations to find a beautiful and resourceful planet like we have found. And they will also help slow down climate change.

It seems so simple and yet reaching sustainability is one of the biggest challenges the world is facing today. So simple that children understand and express it better than adults.

“Sharing what we have with others and not taking more than our share.”

“Thinking about what you need rather than taking what you want.”

“Sustainability is not just cleaning up your own room – it’s about keeping tidy an even bigger room that belongs to everyone!”

Perhaps adults should then lend a year to the solution that children propose:

“One thing leads to another, then another. Let’s make the chain good.”