“When people in an American city turn on the air conditioning or people in Europe drive their cars, their actions have consequences. Those consequences link them to rural communities in Bangladesh, farmers in Ethiopia and slum dwellers in Haiti. With these human connections come moral responsibilities, including a responsibility to reflect upon—and change— energy policies that inflict harm on other people or future generations.”
Week 2 took us on a walk through time, stopping in a place where we are faced with lots of questions about our future, the future for others and the future of our planet. It is a big question that requires action but what action should we take and how did it come to this? The fact that we are all in this together was very vividly portrayed to us when we heard about Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring (1962). It seems, to me, that this book was the first time in history that the connections in our planet, which we worked on last week, were proven. Questions dart around in my head about development and the effect of human activity and technology on our planet earth. “This book brought together research on toxicology, ecology and epidemiology to suggest that agricultural pesticides were building to catastrophic levels. This was linked to damage to animal species and to human health. It shattered the assumption that the environment had an infinite capacity to absorb pollutants.” “Silent Spring”.
One of the main things to stand out in my mind after our walk through time is the impact of the Industrial Revolution on society and the environment. This was the beginning of the meeting and merging of fossil fuels and technology. It merged positives and negatives and began the shift in the balance of Sustainability that we are only now starting to examine. The Industrial Revolution began this shift in balance. It brought prosperity at a cost for people. On the negative side it began our overdependence and overuse of fossil fuels. People were so busy being busy that nobody took the time or saw the need to look for alternatives. This industrialization was also the point where we broke the link with our ability to produce food locally. We became a capitalist society. Not every country benefitted from this industrialization with what are seen to be the first world countries exploiting the third world countries both for raw materials and labour. A large part of society turned into a community of ‘wants’ and we lost sight of what our ‘needs’ actually are.
This made me reflect on week one’s lecture about the Hierarchy of Needs and how important that is to the whole question of Sustainable Development and to individual and collective well being.
John Maynard Keynes who is regarded as the most influential economist of the twentieth century, considered the day when society could focus on ends (happiness and well-being, for example) rather than means (economic growth and individual pursuit of profit). He wrote: “…that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanor, and the love of money is detestable… We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful.” http://steadystate.org/discover/definition/ (5-2-11).
Human and social aspects of Sustainable Development can’t function alone which takes me back to the ripple effect of throwing a stone in a pond. The ripples from social and human development spread out to the global environment and economy. People have been trying to draw our attention to this since the first 1970’s Earth Day with different views of Sustainable Development emerging, which we are now challenged to consider.
All models of Sustainable Development seem to have negative and positive elements. Most however agree, that sustainable development should bring about change for the better to communities locally and internationally. The question for all of us is determining what ‘change for the better’ means. “Until very recently, it was associated with economic growth…rising GDP indicated a better life for all. However, it became clear that in many cases a growing economy resulted in serious social and environmental problems for example, growing marginalisation between the rich and the poor, regional and social inequality and increasing environmental damage to name but a few.”
The Sustainable Development model puts the emphasis on keeping a balance between economy, environment and social equity. One of the ideas that I like, which was put forward, was that the developed world should help the developing world by transferring finance and technology to help address social inequalities.
“The world’s poor cannot be left to sink or swim with their own resources while rich countries protect their citizens behind climate- defence fortifications. Social justice and respect of human rights demand stronger international commitment on adaptation.”
The Green Economy model puts forward the idea of the need for a “radical” change. This would involve setting up local self-sufficient communities in a no growth economy. There is merit in producing what we can locally and cutting down on food miles. Green Economics also espouse ethical consumption, recycling, and energy saving. Tim Jackson suggested that a no-growth economy was not feasible because we live on a finite planet.
During the walking debate I opted for the Deep Ecology view as I felt that we are so consumed with economy at the moment that a radical change is needed in favour of the environment before we can reestablish a balance. We are in a crisis situation, “Climate change threatens to erode human freedoms and limit choice.”
By the end of the lecture on Value Systems I recognized that we need to look at our own values and those of others and take what is best out of all the Value Systems. “Our starting point is that the battle against climate change can—and must—be won. The world lacks neither the financial resources nor the technological capabilities to act. If we fail to prevent climate change it will be because we were unable to foster the political will to cooperate.” http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_20072008_EN_Overview.pdf (2-2-11).
Sustainable Development raises, “profoundly important questions about social justice, equity and human rights across countries and generations”. http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_20072008_EN_Overview.pdf (2-2-11).