Sustainability: The Only Way Out

We can’t just consume our way to a more sustainable world…

When the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi decided to return back to his motherland from South Africa where he had gone as a lawyer for the Indian community, he called Kasturba and told her, ‘Let’s distribute these gifts among the impecunious and needy people.’ Kasturba, befuddled, replied, ‘But these gifts have been given to you by the very same people. To this Mahatma Gandhi answered, ‘They gave it to me out of love , but I don’t need it.’ This man spent his whole life the basis of needs, that too reduced.

This is also what he had preached in context of sustainability, ‘Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed’. This is proved by a research conducted in the 80s which indicates that if the world’s population is multiplied by 4, there still would be enough for everyone provided that our life is confined to our needs and not greed. Keeping this in mind, it’s vital to understand that the distribution of development in our country isn’t horse to horse. The current model of development has created more problems and solved less. The irrational methods of production, consumption and distribution has created a huge gap between the haves and have-nots. If the benefits of development doesn’t reach to all the people then how can we call it development? So it’s logical and rather exigent to question ourselves whether the type of development we pursue creates, reinforces and perpetuates this crises. If the answer is yes, then it’s the eleventh hour for us to altercate our policies and consciously design a thorough plan development that by every means is sustainable.

We can recall an advertisement where a school going youngin expresses his wish of becoming a cycle mechanic to his father reasoning it with the fact that if we are ever so careless with the precious resources we possess, it wouldn’t even last until he’s grown up. The father in the same advertisement shows sensitivity and awareness towards his son’s words and turns off the car stuck in the traffic . But what if he hadn’t, what if WE don’t, don’t what would lie in our future? Perhaps something like this ‘The street is carpeted in the same dusty powder that is in my hair and clothes. Homes trajectory the street like broken teeth, falling down impetuously as if they were bombed. Yet the most sumptuous thing to happen here in the past twenty years is the ever hotter summers and wind that howls across the landscape unhindered by trees. Graffiti still shows red and blue through the dust, tags from people who fled north with the dying rains, all childish rebellions long blotted out. How all this trauma aged us. Adolescents could be ninety in those teenage bones. One wouldn’t come here if it weren’t for the resources we now need, stuff that could be lying relinquished behind these sunbaked walls. I would shout to shock this place with the exuberance of life, but then I would have to breath this foul air in more deeply and I don’t know how much this old hospital mask will filter.”

The child symbolizes the future generation and the father represents the present generation. As parents we all are concerned about our children’s future. After all we want it to be safe, secure and prosperous. But do we really? The answer is a big no. You need not ask me ‘why’. Let us ask ourselves what are we leaving for our children – toxic air, water and soil. This translates to the fact that whatever they will inhale , drink and eat is TOXIC. This again leaves us with a question – Are we responsible parents or citizens? No matter how harsh this dreadful imagination may sound, it has the potential to transform into reality if we aren’t cautious enough. We are setting up the future generation for a dark future. Can we reverse the trend, repair the damage and change it for the better? The answer is yes. The solution is Sustainable Development which is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

But this leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Whose “needs of the present” is this referring to? The needs of a family of four in a United States suburb are quite different than those of a similar sized family in sub-Saharan Africa. And regarding the needs of future generations, a world in 2100 is drastically different than our current world . Figuring out how to meet our needs while simultaneously considering the uncharted territory of such a large future population is a massive undertaking. Most importantly this definition doesn’t tell us what sustainability actually looks like in practice. How can we motivate people to move toward more sustainable lifestyles if they can’t envision what they’re moving toward?
Further complicating the topic of sustainability are the myriad aliases it operates under — sustainable development, resilience, sustainable entrepreneurship, Triple Bottom Line, corporate social responsibility, etc.
That’s why, perhaps it’s more efficacious to break the issue into smaller, more manageable knobs than to speak of sustainability in grand pronouncements .To that end, here are four suggestions to help advance the “global sustainability” narrative.

1. Break sustainability down by sector

When throwing around phrases such as “building a sustainable future,” it’s critical to identify the sector you’re talking about. The sustainability of the transportation sector obviously presents a different range of challenges and opportunities than, say, the sustainability of global agriculture. And if one becomes more sustainable while the other becomes less sustainable, are we truly moving toward a more sustainable future overall? Even within sectors there are challenges. If your goal is to create a more sustainable energy system, does that mean reducing carbon emissions — thus including nuclear energy — or are you referring to “clean” sources of renewable energy such as solar and wind? Once again, details matter greatly.

2. Speak in specifics

Ask a hundred people if they’re interested in living in a “more sustainable world” and I bet the vast majority would respond, “Yes.” The trouble is, they’d probably all have a different idea in their heads of what that meant. We need to start talking about a sustainable future in specifics. Sustainability over what time frame? Where? For whom? Which brings me to my next point…

3. Clearly identify who benefits

We need to clarify who benefits from sustainability efforts. For example, does sustainable apparel benefit someone making dollars a day? If so, explain how. Does sustainable energy help the millions living without access to electricity? Are we talking about sustainability for humans, animals, plants and/or other natural systems? If humans are living “more sustainable lifestyles” while the extinction rate for plants and animals continues its upward trajectory, can we call that a success?

4. Paint a picture

What does sustainability look like in practice? How does it actually work? What’s different from the world we live in today? And, perhaps most importantly, what are the trade-offs? Walking and biking might be the most sustainable forms of transportation, but they’re probably not the most time efficient if you need to drive 10 miles across town for work or an appointment. No matter how different we want the future to be, we can’t simply ignore the way people actually live today. We cannot simply wish for a world we want.

It’s also imperative to comprehend that sustainable development does not mean a return to a preindustrial or pre-technological era. It calls for perpetuated economic growth and for business and industry to play a pivotal role in achieving sustainable livelihoods for all people–alleviating poverty and improving living standards while maintaining the integrity of the global environment. But the process has been hindered by a conceptual obstacle: the belief that economic progress and environmental protection are mutually antagonistic goals. This thinking originated with the industrial revolution and achieved its fullest realization in the decades of unprecedented growth following World War II, when innovation produced such high-tech items as computer chips and satellites, new and quicker modes of transport, agricultural green revolution, etc. However, this only served to reinforce a belief in the virtues of unbridled industrial development, even at the expense of the environment. Balance is essential between development and environment changes in global climate patterns, deforestation, species loss, air and water pollution, ozone depletion and toxic waste disposal, all indicate the urgent need for sustainable practices. The crisis is global. So everyone rich or poor , developed or underdeveloped have to make painful choices in the name of mutual security in order to meet the goals of sustainable development.

Sustainable development is the need of the present time not only for the survival of mankind but also for it’s future protection. Unlike the other great revolutions in human history like the Green Revolution and the Industrial Revolution; the ‘sustainable revolution’ will have to take place rapidly, consciously and on many different levels and in many different spheres, simultaneously.


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