Sustainable development is a central concept for our age. Sustainable development is an action for which sustainability is an outcome. It is both a way of understanding the places where we live and a method for solving problems. As an intellectual pursuit, sustainable development tries to make sense of the interactions of three complex systems: the comparative economy, the society, and the Earth’s physical environment. Sustainable development is also an ethical outlook on the places where we live, meaning that it designs a set of goals to which people should aspire.
I am sitting at my computer writing what will surely be one of many posts exploring what Sustainability Now means to a small country like Belize. A horrific wind and rain storm is raging outside my window, kicking up 5 foot waves. This scenario makes me think what any place would be without its seasons and its precipitation (rain or snow) with regards to its long-lasting well-being. Belize is just finishing its rainy season and without rain this place would not be sustainable. Rain supports all the wonderful tropical vegetation and animals of the coastal lowlands, jungles, and mountains of Belize. It feeds the rivers that teem with fish to support the many people’s livelihoods along these rivers and the rain sustains many of the recreational activities that tourists come to Belize to enjoy. So if one were to call anything a sustainability indicator it would be the seasonal supply of rainwater to Belize!
In continuing this blog on Sustainability Now (SN) for Belize, Central America, it is important that one is able to embrace the large issue that is sustainable development and carry on dialogue from some common points of agreement among many different people. Sustainability is a cross-cutting, multidisciplinary challenge that requires the input of minds from all fields to provide the expertise that will help society make responsible decisions for the future. Therefore it is vital to discuss the concept of sustainable development and bring together shared views of this topic in moving forward to fairly integrate strategies regarding what Belize can do toward its future. This blog is a forum to accomplish this discussion purpose, to provide the opportunity for stimulating and assimilating these cross-disciplinary conversations.
As I have experienced it through the years, basically the spirit of sustainability is simple, creative, and down-to-earth. Once the province of counter-culturists on one end of the spectrum, and researchers and senior UN officials (for example) on the other, sustainability has long since found its way into the mainstream of society. We even have systems for it such as the Global Reporting Initiative, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) guidelines, countless frameworks, and training tools. And even as this post is being written there is a group of policy-makers and experts from around the world adopting the “Sustainable Development Goals” or SDGs, which is truly a historic watershed moment in the sustainability movement.
So it’s no longer simply about collecting compost or choosing the right kind of light bulbs. Sustainability management and policy now cover long-term economic, social, and health or well-being aspects of a company, community, or nation, just as much as it does issues related to environment and natural resources. And sustainability discussions have moved from the living rooms of volunteer and civic groups to the legislative chambers of governments and boardrooms of the world’s biggest corporations.
Sustainability has truly spread everywhere in the past couple of decades. I even wrote a couple of books about the subject during this period – “Living a Sustainable Lifestyle for Our Children’s Children” (2001) and “Practice of Sustainable Community Development” (2013) because I firmly believe more and more people are looking at it as significant alternative solutions to many of our societal problems. When companies like Nike are going sustainable, you know the term has firmly established itself as a normal part of human life.
But does that mean the “sustainability movement” has succeeded? Oh no, not yet. The idea may be well established. Some basic goals and good practices have certainly rooted themselves into business, government, education, municipal planning, and more.
You just have to look around, though, and read the data on things like climate change, our use of the sea, youth unemployment, the migration of refugees, and of course headlines revolving around armed conflict and disease vectors to realize that we still have far to go. We now understand that we need sustainability. We even understand a good bit about how to achieve it.
There is still an awful lot of work to actually do, at every level, from global policy making, to the reorganization of corporate supply chains, to the acceleration of development for the billions who do not have enough. And yes, we still need compost systems — a lot of them — for the world’s growing cities and mega-cities. Not only have we not outgrown the need for local initiatives based in towns, cities, regions, and even small countries, promoting change, initiating projects, and rewarding leadership, who keep pushing the envelope and continuously raising the bar. We need them more than ever.
So to begin the discussion of Sustainability Now for the country of Belize it is wise that we all generally agree what the foundational elements are that explain sustainability in a way that we all can understand. I suggest that robust and generally acceptable answers to the question “what is sustainability” have remained elusive because all the issues it touches are entrenched in socio-economic and ecological systems that are chaotic and complex, and which often represent issues in opposition requiring reconciliation. For example, it is believed that among other issues sustainability concerns include population, climate, economic prosperity, energy, natural resource use, waste management, our homes, our children, our jobs, biodiversity, watershed protection, technology, agriculture, safe water supplies, the air we breathe, the food we eat, international security, politics, green building, sustainable cities, smart development, community/family relations, family-wage jobs, human values, etc. All these diverse “pieces” are parts of the sustainable society puzzle, because they are the basic ingredients of everyday life.
We can try to understand how these systems operate but, because of significant scientific uncertainty, we can never be sure how they are going to behave as conditions change. This can lead to much debate about the meaning and implications of sustainability and criticism of the actions of institutions claiming devotion to it. Hopefully we can think about the many implications of sustainability and the seeming contradictions that exist in its meaning in preparation for next week’s second blog posting on “What is Sustainability – Part 2”.
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Black Howler Monkey
Black Howler Monkey