Thursday, February 2, 2012

Future Development and Sustainability by Tammy L. Hooper

PHS 100A, Environmental Studies
Warner Pacific University

February 1, 2012

Future Development and Sustainability

Changes needed in our society to confront future development and sustainability are modifications in our “behaviors, institutions, and technologies” (Brennan, 2011, p. 677). Sustainability as defined by The United Nations (UN) is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs” (United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, 2009). The UN further states that this “requires the integration of its economic, environmental and social components at all levels by continuous dialogue and action in global partnership.” So we need to collectively find a way to balance environmental goals, social goals and economic goals. According to the World Conservation Union we are currently out of balance in these areas and top heavy in economic and social goals and deficient in realistic and working environmental goals (Resources, 2006). The World Conservation Union remarks “development decisions by governments, businesses and other actors do allow trade-offs and put greatest emphasis on the economy above other dimensions of sustainability. This is a major reason why the environment continues to be degraded and development does not achieve desirable equity goals.” The report goes on to say that the integration of economic, environmental and social components cannot be treated equally because the economy is an “institution that emerges from society” and that they are virtually one and the same as society creates rules to mediate the exchange of goods or value (Resources, 2006). The environment on the other hand is not created by society and trade offs are limited in regards to human activity.

In 1992, Edward Wilson noted that human activities have increased 'background' extinction rates by between 100 and 10,000 times. 'We are’, he said, ‘in the midst of one of the great extinction spasms of geological history” (Resources, 2006). The Millennium Assessment (MA) which was implemented by UN secretary Kofi Annan in 2000, “to assess the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being and the scientific basis for action needed to enhance the conservation and sustainable use of those systems and their contribution to human well-being makes quite clear that not only does the level of poverty remain high, but inequality is growing” (Overview of the Milliennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). The main finding of the MA were that in the last 50 years humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly than at any other time in history. This has been due to the rising demand for food, water, timber, fiber and fuel (Overview of the Milliennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). These changes have been for human gain and environmental loss which has aggravated poverty for some peoples. This in itself diminishes sustainability for future generations. There needs to be significant changes in policies, institutions and practices for measurable sustainability to occur.

It appears that what we have been doing regarding sustainability isn’t working and to try and fix a broken system would just be wasting time and depleting our resources even more. There needs to be new ways of thinking and a doing away with “business as usual” (Resources, 2006). One thing to look at is our ravenous consumption appetite and developing awareness that our production systems are flawed. Advertising and media which are so powerful globally actually promote the opposite view, that production and consumption are good and favorable. This promotion can cause people to remain ignorant of the fact that we have limited natural resources and that we cannot indefinitely continue to consume goods and certain services at our current level. This new look at sustainability must include “both the human needs and aspirations of the poor of developing world, and the over-consumption in the industrialized world (Resources, 2006). There needs to be reeducation to the myth that if we remove a stress to an ecological system then it will simply renew itself. This myth gives humans comfort that the environment will always support us therefore ensuring our existence indefinitely. This is simply not the truth and can be plainly seen with some education from knowledgeable sources in our communities, cities, states, internationally and globally. There also needs to also be education regarding the poverty inflicted on certain groups of people due to the exhaustive use of natural resources and the rapid and continued expand of industrialism.

The World Conservation Union states “Sustainability needs to be made the basis of a new understanding of human aspiration and achievement. The relevant metric of sustainability is ‘the production of human wellbeing (not necessarily material goods) per unit of extraction from or imposition upon nature” (Resources, 2006). In fact, the United Nations is hosting a High Level Meeting on Happiness and Wellbeing: Defining a New Economic Paradigm in New York on April 2, 2012. The UN prefaces this meeting on their website by stating “The world is at a crossroads. The future of mankind and the planet is at stake” (Happiness and Wellbeing). Jigmi Y. Thinley, Prime Minister, Royal Government of Bhutan states:

Our global economic system is in rapid melt-down, starting with the financial collapse of 2008 and now manifesting in Europe’s severe and spreading debt crisis. That economic system, based on the totally unsustainable premise of limitless growth on a finite planet, is the direct cause of the very policies that the IEA says are leading us to a calamitous end as evident in the growing frequency and magnitude of manmade and natural disasters. And that economic system has produced ever widening inequities, with 20% of the world’s people now consuming 86% of its goods, 84% of its paper, and 87% of its cars, while the poorest 20% consume 1% or less of each and emit only 2% of the world’s greenhouse gases. That gap, coupled with the deep economic crisis, led the International Labour Organization to warn on 30 October that the world faces years of social unrest as economies falter (Happiness and Wellbeing).

The Prime Minister also sees this meeting as an opportunity for international consensus for the creation of sustainability based economic paradigm with national accounting systems and to slow resource degradation and to support and protect the world’s most vulnerable peoples. It is planned that key representative leaders from developed and developing nations, along with leading economists, scientists, and civil society and spiritual leaders, come together to issue a call at the UN on 2nd April for a sustainability-based economic development paradigm to replace the current system. It is thought that this project would be worked on over the next year and then would be available for implementation on a voluntary basis in national policy.

How is my major in human development affected by environmental issues? Malnutrition, inadequate water supply and environmental pollution pose serious problems to human health. From an environmental perspective shortage of arable land and water stress are important drivers for food vulnerability. Unsafe drinking water and indoor air pollution are the most serious environmental offenders, in view of current loss of human health (Outstanding Environmental Issues for Human Development, 2005). According to the 2011 Human Development Report, “power imbalances and gender inequalities at the national level are linked to reduced access to clean water and improved sanitation, land degradation and deaths due to indoor and outdoor air pollution, amplifying the effects associated with income disparities (Human Development Report 2011 Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All, 2011). Equal access to water, energy, healthcare, reproductive care and sanitation could help sustainability and human development. It is further stated that “Poor and disadvantaged people suffer most from environmental degradation” (Human Development Report 2011 Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All, 2011) and I have certainly found that to be true in the work I do with low income women and children. Most of the women I work with do not have a high school diploma or a GED and little work history. Most of the women are in their early to mid thirties and have at least two children if not four or five that they cannot support financially. Child care is expensive and even more so if you have more than one child so often attending college or taking classes to obtain a GED can be very difficult. This forces families to remain on state assistance to meet their needs for medical, dental, food and a small cash assistance. Many of these children have medical issues some quite serious due to drug use while pregnant, domestic violence while pregnant, living in unsanitary conditions, and malnourishment. I have seen children with symptoms that I as a mother would be concerned about, have an extremely difficult time accessing appropriate medical resources or be taken seriously. These women that I work with often do not have any education surrounding healthy eating, exercise, environment, community, and certainly not sustainability. I am fortunate that I have access to 28 women that I can give share this information with. I also have many volunteers, who come to our center and teach the women about health and wellness, growing a garden even in an apartment setting, eating organic or local and reproductive health. Personally, I want to start composting in my backyard this spring and become more involved in my local community, maybe attending a neighborhood meeting. These are some of the ways that I am using this course to be a steward of the environment.


Brennan, S. &. (2011). Environment The Science Behind the Stories. San Francisco: Pearson Education, Inc.

Happiness and Wellbeing. (n.d.). Retrieved January 29, 2012, from

Human Development Report 2011 Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All. (2011). Retrieved January 29, 2012, from United Nations Development Programme:

Outstanding Environmental Issues for Human Development. (2005). Retrieved January 29, 2012, from PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency:

Overview of the Milliennium Ecosystem Assessment. (2005). Retrieved January 29, 2012, from Millenium Assessment Web:

Resources, I. U. (2006, January 29-31). The Future of Sustainability Re-thinking Environment and Development in the Twenty-first Century. Retrieved January 29, 2012, from International Union for Nature and Natural Resources:

United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20. (2009). Retrieved January 29, 2012, from UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Division for Sustainable Development:

No comments: