Introduction to Sustainable Development
by Paul J. Dejillas
Professor of Anthropology
In the past, sustainability has not really been expressed as an explicit goal of development. Over time, however, as industrialization progresses, man’s very own survival and existence has been severely threatened because of several factors: limitations and constraints of the physical environment to grow, rapid population growth, climatic change, natural disasters, scarcity and depletion of the world’s resources. All these factors have in turn contributed to the deterioration of man’s social conditions that give rise to such global problems as poverty, ecological degradation, inequity, social divisiveness, cultural disintegration, and disenfranchisement. To ensure and maintain man’s existence, global attention to development has, since the early 1990s, focused on sustainability as an explicit goal. This global concern began as a largely economic concept gradually expanding to include its social, political, and ecological dimensions. We will try to deepen the expanse and depth of this multidimensional aspect our discussion on sustainable development in this course.
Towards an Acceptable Definition of Sustainable Development
Today, the concept “sustainable development” has come to mean that state of living where man is in harmony with his environment. It is that type of development which, as global institutions advance, does not result in ecological degradation, in the disturbance of Nature’s biological diversity and life-support systems, in undermining its ecological social system, and in compromising the ability of the environment to grow and renew itself. It is pursued by many to ensure that the needs of the present and future generations are met fairly and equitably.
Thus, in relation to his community and society, “living in harmony” suggests that man’s work does not result in social degeneration, political disenfranchisement, economic dislocation, widespread poverty, glaring inequality, cultural/tribal disintegration, and even religious persecution. It is believed that environmental and economic as well as political decisions affect each others and, thus, require that economic and political decisions adequately reflect environmental impacts, even as environmental initiatives need to adequately take into account economic and political consequences. Thus, approaches to improving man’s quality of life need to be coordinated and consistent. As one observer puts it: "A healthy economy is critically important, but inadequately regulated free enterprise shifts pollution and resource-depletion costs of manufacturing and development to poorer members of the community and to future generations" (Beryl Magilavy).
The most commonly used definition of sustainable development is given in the Brundlandt Commission in 1987. Sustainable development is viewed largely in economic terms as “economic development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED 1987). Since then, however, the definition has undergone several adjustments by incorporating several other features that are non-economic and non-material in nature to respond to an ever-changing and dynamic environment. As a guiding framework, sustainable development is now viewed as multi-dimensional, integrating various aspects of development that includes not only economic, social, environmental, but also legal, political, cultural, and even psychological factors. These various dimensions are viewed as inter-related and inter-dependent. As one author succinctly puts it (Bossel 1999:2):
If we would achieve environmental sustainability coupled with a continuation of present trends, where a small minority lives in luxury, partly at the expense of an underprivileged majority, this would be socially unsustainable in the long run because of the stresses caused by the institutional injustice. And an equitable, environmentally and physically sustainable society that exploits the environment at the maximum sustainable rate would still be psychologically and culturally sustainable … A just and fair society, for example, is likely to be more securely sustainable than a materially sustainable brutal dictatorship.
Thus, the concept sustainable development has been picturesquely described as that type of development which, as global institutions advance, promotes ecological growth, social cohesion and integration, empowerment, poverty alleviation, and cultural enrichment (Vangile Titi, Richard Strickland, Naresh C. Singh 1995). Ecological growth is necessary because of the constraint imposed by the physical environment in terms of available space, soil fertility, climate changes, availability of both renewable and non-renewable resources, waste absorption capacity, and the like (Bossel 1999). Social integration is also expressed as an explicit ingredient in sustainable development in view of today’s rapid population growth, ethnic conflicts, increasing alienation of the youth, massive unemployment, and civil disorder. Empowerment means “building the capacity of local, national and international communities to respond to a changing environment.” Meanwhile, the negative consequences of poverty and inequity are considered as contributory factors to social destabilization and erode the capacity of future generations to respond to their needs. Thus, it becomes all too-important for sustainable development strategies to combat poverty and injustice in society.
Overall, there are more or less 15 topics given for this course. The number of topics corresponds to the average number of sessions set for one semester. These topics are given in modular form below.
1. Welcome Sustainable Development - The indicators of sustainable development are designed to address common environmental problems: Acid rain, pollution, deforestation, desertification, flooding, global warming, hazardous wastes, extinction of several species, loss of ecosystem, ozone depletion, water shortages, and wetlands destruction.
2. Prevailing View of Sustainable Development - In the past, sustainability has not really been expressed as an explicit goal of development. Over time, however, as industrialization progresses, man’s very own survival and existence has been severely threatened because of several factors: limitations and constraints of the physical environment to grow, rapid population growth, climatic change, natural disasters, scarcity and depletion of the world’s resources. All these factors have in turn contributed to the deterioration of man’s social conditions that give rise to such global problems as poverty, ecological degradation, inequity, social divisiveness, cultural disintegration, and disenfranchisement. To ensure and maintain man’s existence, global attention to development has, since the early 1990s, focused on sustainability as an explicit goal.
3. Critical Issues in Sustainable Development - In order to achieve that state of harmony between man and his environment, the global community has embarked on a four-decade journey aimed at furthering progress towards broad global sustainable development objectives. During the course of this 40-year period, a manifold range of sustainable development issues, which the World Summit on Sustainable Development-2002 labeled as critical, have been discussed, debated, deliberated, and negotiated.
4. Toward an Alternative View of Sustainable Development - In spite of the several recent developments, the above approach can still be considered as conventional when explaining the nature, scope, and objectives of sustainable development. The term “sustainable development” is broadly described as that state of living where man is in harmony with his environment and his fellowmen. Environment can refer to the physical resources of Mother Nature and that harmonious living infers that man’s work does not result in environmental degradation, in the disturbance of Nature’s biological diversity and life-support systems, in undermining its ecological system, and in compromising the ability of the environment to grow and renew itself.
5. Theories on Sustainable Development - Theories on development now abound. In all this, the overriding theory is the Western neo-classical perspective that pervades in most contemporary interpretations of sustainable development. Some of the more famous neo-classical theories of economics that are used to analyze sustainable development include optimal control theory, optimal growth and development models, population growth theories, income distribution theories, growth theories, development theories, comparative static analysis, production function (environmental productivity), utility function, equity theories, etc.
Views of Other Disciplines on Sustainable Development: A Comparative View
The Cosmic Anthropological Perspective of Sustainable Development
The Implications of the CA perspective to Today's Globalizing World
Energy and Mineral Resources and Their Implications to Sustainable Development
Ecological Resources and Sustainable Development
Urbanization and Industrialization: Their Implications to SD
Poverty and Sustainable Development
Population and Sustainable Development
Globalization and Sustainable Development
Agriculture and Sustainable Development
Politics and Sustainable Development
Leadership and Governance in Sustainable Development
Summary, Reflections, and Conclusions