What Sustainable Development Really Means
It is in man's nature to create, to invent, to re-invent. The spirit of exploration, invention and discovery never ceases to be. For that is the purpose of man's existence, for that is how we have evolved, and that is what keeps the human spirit going. The wheel keeps on turning. From being a cave-man to being the cubicle-man, it has been a continual, iterative process of discovery that has led us through the dark ages and into brighter sunshine. Or into more darkness?
What is the cost this indulgence, we question. What is the real measure of progress? Are we making progress at all? Are we headed toward self-annihilation? Are we too good for our own good? Such questions arise in ones mind when one sits back and takes a peek-preview at the history of what has been the intellectual evolution of mankind. We proudly brand ourselves as being a civilized race.
What are the pros and cons of what we term as Development? If you would ask a school going kid the same question he would probably say - "Science and technology has done much good, but is also very dangerous if we don't use them properly". The issue really is as simple as that. The facts are there for everybody to see -
On one hand, with significant breakthroughs in the field of medical science and engineering, we have improved the life-expectancy of an individual; we are now in a position to combat many of the dreaded diseases with the progress in the field of human genome mapping; the battle against AIDS continues to this day with the help of latest medical technology; also we have seen a reduced infant mortality rate. Dams have been built using the best engineering principles which now helps farmers in irrigation; we now have super computers which have been facilitating this progress. The list is endless.
While on the other hand we have industries which sustain the same technologies, the same infrastructure, polluting earth's biosphere - Poisoning of precious aquifers and rivers by industrial effluents; depleting rain forest; uncontrolled emission of greenhouse gases leading to global warming; depletion of the ozone layer; increased vehicular population leading to air pollution; displacement of people due to dam constructions and other developmental projects; The list here too, is endless, ironical, and more tragic.
It would be improper if we were to disregard other impacts that mankind's quest for progress has had. Lifestyles have changed over the years quite drastically for both the urban and rural populace. We see an increased migration of people from rural to urban areas due to the rising distrust in the social infrastructure which in turn cause resource bottlenecks in cities. Agricultural lands are being used for non-agricultural purposes. The list of concerns, as you must have guessed by now, is endless again.
We live in a globalized world in every sense of the word. Cultures are influencing other cultures; the very own fabric of society has changed over the years for good or for bad. But there has been a general trend which shows decreasing social capital. Tension between people of different religious, ethnic and geographical backgrounds still prevails. Traditionalists and modernists debate on what is good for the society. So it all comes down to the interplay between the environment, social policies and the people, and economic policies.
What is the way forward? Should be the question we need to look forward to answer. The answer hopefully can be found in a Sustainable Development Policy Framework. Sustainable Development should aim at engendering economic and social policies, which–
- are viable in the context of the environment that we live in, taking into account its importance and constraints, respecting that Environment is a resource which belongs to all, and affects all. It should be realized that the rate of consumption of natural resources should be less than or equal to the regenerative capacity of the environment;
- bring about equitable growth among the populace, ensuring a decent standard of living for all. As we have seen earlier, disparity in economic and social growth brings about tension in the society;
- aren’t short sighted – which are responsible enough to consider the needs of our future generations. As Dr. Kurien had once said “When you leave this world it does not matter how much your bank account reads, but whether you left this place in a better state than what you had found it in ”;
- respect the species of flora and fauna and which avoid exploitation of their habitat.
Mankind cannot be tamed; the spirit cannot be bogged down. There is no Utopia – they only exist in books and papers, chaos will persist. What is the need of the hour is a pragmatic, sustainable approach which makes the best of the worst - which takes into account the damage already inflicted and the necessary damage control exercises that need to be carried out which will ensure the sustenance of our biosphere including our species, and the other species who are at our mercy.