Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Sustainable Development A Worthy Goal?

As Bob pointed out at our last meeting, the world’s heads of state are heading to New York this week to attend the UN’s Sustainable Development Summit.  Part of the summit will be the signing off on the Sustainable Development Goals that are hoped to be achieved within 15 years.  These laudable goals include 17 topics that include the likes of: ( )

1.       End poverty in all its forms everwhere
2.       End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
3.       Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
4.       Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
5.       Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
6.       Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
7.       Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
8.       Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
9.       Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
10.   Reduce inequality within and among countries
11.   Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
12.   Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
13.   Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*
14.   Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
15.   Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
16.   Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
17.   Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

On the surface, these all seem like good goals to strive for.  But as anthropologist Jason Hickel points out in his recent Guardian piece titled “Forget 'developing' poor countries, it's time to 'de-develop' rich countries” (  ), a continued focus on growth, as highlighted in goal 8, is likely to get us to the same place our current growth has, which is an increase in the problems the goals are trying to eliminate. 

Per Hickel –

The main strategy for eradicating poverty is the same: growth.
It will take 100 years for the world’s poorest people to earn $1.25 a day
Growth has been the main object of development for the past 70 years, despite the fact that it’s not working. Since 1980, the global economy has grown by 380%, but the number of people living in poverty on less than $5 (£3.20) a day has increased by more than 1.1 billion. That’s 17 times the population of Britain. So much for the trickle-down effect.

Orthodox economists insist that all we need is yet more growth. More progressive types tell us that we need to shift some of the yields of growth from the richer segments of the population to the poorer ones, evening things out a bit. Neither approach is adequate. Why? Because even at current levels of average global consumption, we’re overshooting our planet’s bio-capacity by more than 50% each year.

In other words, growth isn’t an option any more – we’ve already grown too much. Scientists are now telling us that we’re blowing past planetary boundaries at breakneck speed. And the hard truth is that this global crisis is due almost entirely to overconsumption in rich countries.

Either we slow down voluntarily or climate change will do it for us. We can’t go on ignoring the laws of nature. But rethinking our theory of progress is not only an ecological imperative, but also a development one. If we do not act soon, all our hard-won gains against poverty will evaporate, as food systems collapse and mass famine re-emerges to an extent not seen since the 19th century.

This is not about giving anything up. And it’s certainly not about living a life of voluntary misery or imposing harsh limits on human potential. On the contrary, it’s about reaching a higher level of understanding and consciousness about what we’re doing here and why.

So what do you think - can we keep on growing and eventually outgrow our problems?  Or is it time for us to grow up and learn how to live a meaningful life on our finite planet?