It's the Environment, Stupid.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sustainable Saturdays

Stealing - or rather borrowing an idea I liked from World - I will devote Saturdays to sustainability! If only every blog were so lucky. (World Changing has Sustainability Sundays).

I'm for sustainable development. Actually, I was obsessed with what I thought sustainable development was when I first started grad school. It was the best thing ever to hit development theory and would save the world if only everyone practiced it. Too bad I had no clue what it actually was. I would tell everyone I knew that I was really interested in sustainable development. I got two kinds of responses: a postive affirmation indicating that person knew sustainable development was a good thing, right? The second type of response was a little more difficult, "What do you mean by sustainable development exactly?" That answer ALWAYS stopped me in my tracks as I fumbled with some kind of save-the-environment, good-for-the-people answer.

I decided I should find out more about it if I was going to be the new poster girl for the term. As I began to educate myself on sustainable development I realized NO ONE knows what it is. There are nearly one million definitions and variations on the term (that is an approximate number of course, picked randomly from my head). Sustainable development, sustainable livelihoods, sustainable communities, urban sustainability... and on, and on and on. There are even actual reports and studies on the use of the term, and a few have even attempted to determine where it has been implemented and what it meant to do.

The fact is sustainable development is losing steam. It has become too vague, and too ubiquitous to make a difference. It has come to mean everything from forest conservation to clean energy to "green" buildings. One thing these definitions do have in common is their relation to the environment - oh and the priority given to sustainable development by government and development/donor agencies (no matter how they define it), which is as a separate issue. Governments treat the environment separately from the economy, and social issues. This is unfortunate because the three really cannot be separated - you can't really address one without having some impact or influence over the others.

So, now I'm even more obsessed than ever with the term and believe that it can save the world, if and only if the economy, the environment and social well-being are looked at together.
(to be continued obviously since this is the blog topic...)


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