Time for a more inclusive sustainability construct?
This year, the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report is on the theme of ‘Sustainability and Equity’, which is a very apt topic in the light of the run up to the Millennium Development Goals deadline of 2015, as finally sustainability has got the attention that it deserved as a developmental matter. It is a community focused issue, and in its finality boils down to livability and quality of life. Social variables of equity, gender, and race are crucial in playing out the sustainability discourse in the grassroots.
When we discuss environmental protection issues, such as clean water, air and land, we are conversing regarding the resource commons. Lots of communities in the developing world live on the environmental resources. Fishing, agriculture and forestry are regular vocations which millions engage in, for their livelihood in the developing part of the world. Environmental sustainability is a social issue, as much as it is a technical construct. Technological determinism will enable us to have the tools to combat ecological degradation but to implement it is another matter altogether, as at the end of the day, it is people and groups who would use it.
Sustainability is the current discourse, as used in the environmental context, but for sustainability to impact communities, businesses and governments, and to be incorporated in the everyday functioning, it would mean that this dimension needs to be scaled up. Sustainability needs to move beyond its ‘environmental limitations’. The social dimension is recognized but not fully manifested in the meaning and functioning of the construct.
In order for the social dimension to bloom in its entirety, the political and institutional dimensions should be made a component of sustainability. Environment and society are not decoupled but very much integrated, and politics as is demonstrated by the COP 17 talks, makes or breaks any good work carried out by the scientific community towards achieving environmental sustainability. Climate change for instance is a very politically and ideologically supercharged issue.
Metrics of social and political capital should be factored in to the assessment of sustainability, as without political backing and social well-being, there can be no ‘sustainability’ even if all the environmental parameters are ideal. All the environmental actions will come to a big zero, if we do not have functioning communities with ‘strong leadership’. Healthcare too needs attention in this conversation. Unhealthy people make for unhealthy communities, low productivity and cohesion, hence low on social sustainability. Simple isn’t it?
Environmental degradation has a negative externality of health associated with it. Climate change alter disease patterns as well, along with pollution which makes people sick from vector borne diseases and smog, all boiling down from economic development and our notion of modernity and what constitutes progress. Does a sick, dirty society constitute to be a successful one even if it is clocking high GDP figures and great bottomline for a company?
We need to rethink what truly makes us sustainable, beyond the buzz…
Image: money links 2 by lusi