Monday, January 4, 2010

Sustainable Development 1

Happy 2010 everyone! This is the first full week of the new year, and a new decade (commonly believed, although some argue that this is actually the last year of the previous decade), and I am so happy to share it with you. I mean that quite literally, as I was reminded of how precious life is by watching Peter Jackson's new movie, "The Lovely Bones," and think I will always remember the line that came near the end of the film with chilling efficency, spoken by the murdered protagonist, a 14 year old girl: "I was here for a little while... and then I was gone,"
And so it is with all of us.
Today we celebrate the birthday of Sir Isaac Newton, who is 367 years old, a little over a year in years. Happy Birthday, Newt.
I was reminded of this fact after midnight this morning by the Google logo wherein an apple falls listlessly, bouncing once or twice on an invisible floor. It's good that the search engine company honors the achievements of this man who taught us about gravity, one of the four fundamental forces of nature, how the planets move through space, what the stars are made of, and how far away they are.
I'm currently reading a book written by one of Newton's successors, "The Theory of Everything," by Stephen W. Hawking. He's pretty smart too. Need to know something about that mini black hole that's been hovering in your backyard, you can ask him.
Okay, on to the subject at hand.
The first of the "Global Challenges," identified by the World Federation of United Nations Associations is this: How can sustainable development be achieved for all?
What is meant by sustainable development? The common definition is this: "Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs."
Sounds simple. A poor example of what is meant can be summed up by Newton's Third Law of Motion, "To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." Although the analogy is imprecise, by citing this I mean that many actions that I may take currently may have an appreciable impact, either beneficial or harmful, in the future.
For a simple example, if I withdraw an X (algebra! Isn't it wonderful?!) amount of dollars from my bank account now, will I have enough until my next payday? That's something many of us face all of the time, and any responsible person would seriously take the future into account when they withdraw resources, in this case money, in the present time.
The above paragraph would be an example of economic sustainability on a very small scale. Most would agree that there exist two other forms: environmental sustainability, and sociopolitical sustainability, though many indigenous people would argue a 4th category, being cultural sustainability.
And notice I use the word, "responsible," when describing an instance of successful sustainable development. Unfortunately, many shortsighted, selfish, irresponsible individuals hold positions of great power within the world theater. And remember this (see, Psycho), estimates of the percentage of the general population that may be afflicted by a sociopathic disorder range from 1 to 18, which translates to anywhere between 3 million to 54 million people in this county alone... 67 million to 1.2 billion on the planet. Possibly one in six who may not be openly violent, but harbor no feelings toward others, and are not capable of appreciating or displaying acts of empathy.
I see them all of the time on the bus when its so crowded that the isles are filled with standing passengers, yet there are those who will not scoot over from their isle seats to allow others to sit in the empty ones near the window.
Many of these people run large multi-national corporations. Many of these people are prominent politicians. Many of these people are led by the various propaganda outlets that these corporations and politicians employ and will do whatever they are told despite the obvious detrimental outcome, to themselves, to their children, to their children's children, to the human race... and thus movements are born. And for what? Money, money, money... sometimes raw power, or the power that comes with the accumulation of large fortunes. To pursue that goal without regard to the immense harm your actions inevitably produce is clearly not "responsible." How else can one explain the following:
Despite a scientific concensus that it was imperative to keep atmospheric temperature rises to no more than 2C at the recent Copenhagen Climate Conference, with representatives of 192 countries attending, including the largest polluters; the United States, China, India, and Russia, no commitments to emissions reductions toward actually achieving that goal were made, despite evidence indicating that a rising global temperature will surely lead to disastrous consequences, including vast flooding, famine, and disease outbreaks. Only a political agreement to recognize the danger and possibly look to address it at some future time was agreed upon.
Indeed, efforts by smaller African and other vulnerable nations to strengthen the effort by making further cuts in emissions and holding the temperature rise to 1.5C this century were abandoned all together.
Why? For political and economic reasons, and not the economic reasons that could be labeled as aiding economic sustainability, quite the contrary.
How can this in any way be considered a responsible course of action, not only for our own immediate future, but for the future of those who will come after us?
The answer of course is... that it can't.

To be continued.

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