Cameron Wigmore, Green Party Member: Reality Check: Sustainable Development

October 24, 2006

Reality Check: Sustainable Development

I recently had a great conversation with someone who was turned right off of the term 'sustainable development'. Their definition was the same as the old line parties using this catch phrase to sound good; increasing consumption, or 'development', while giving a lot of lip service with regard to the environment, saying the word 'sustainable' repeatedly. I agreed with my friend that it's frustratingly silly and that the two words appeared to contradict each other. Fortunately there is one political party that is reality based and does a good job of bringing politics 'down to Earth' (pun intended). The Green Party has a firm grasp of what sustainable development really is.

There are different definitions of the words sustainable and development. These words combined have been thrown around haphazardly by politicians so a clarification seems appropriate. I agree with the current Green Party definition of sustainability from their policies. It states that, “Activities are sustainable when they use materials in continuing cycles, use continuously reliable sources of energy, and come mainly from the potentials of being human (i.e., communication, creativity, coordination, appreciation, and spiritual and intellectual development).”

On the flipside, activities are non-sustainable when they require continual input of non-renewable resources, use renewable resources faster than their rate of renewal, cause cumulative degradation of the environment, require resources in quantities that could never be available for all people, and lead to the extinction of other life forms.

Now hold on a minute! That last part sounds more like what the current politicians want us to believe is sustainable, yet it's exactly the opposite. I'll go with the definition of sustainability that the Green Party uses, thank you very much.

To 'develop' according to my definition (not grow or consume more, but develop as in mature or change) seems like something that all types of green-minded individuals can agree to be a good thing. Promoting Fair Trade instead of Free Trade, viewing the economy as a subset of ecology (aka eco-economics), promoting green industries & 'green-collar jobs' as well as a move away from dependence on non-green technologies, and realizing that our level of consumption does not equate to well-being or quality of life (and subsequently supporting a reduction in our levels of consumption) all fall under my own definition of sustainable development.

See A Question Of Direction for more on this subject.


Cameron W said...

I spotted the following related comment on a Green Party listserve today...

...The ¨Potentially Infinitely Expanding Economy¨ quote:

"Anyone who thinks that an economy can be expanded forever, within the confines of a finite planet, is either a madman or an economist"
- Economist Kenneth Boulding.

This really is a deep question. I have pointed out previously on this
list that the American economic historian Robert Fogel (Nobel prize in
economics, 1993) in his inaugural presidential address to the American
Economic Association (I think about 1999) stated in Part IV, concerning
the economic future, that most of the goods and services produced in the
richer countries of the world are spritual in nature, i.e., most of the
economic value imputed to them is based on a spiritually-based content.

One of the things that certainly means is that this value is not based
mainly on material quantity; it comes through design, life-value-adding
attributes, etc., which has enormous potential and for which some
material substrate --say, a computer chip or network -- is necessary as
a beginning, but also is not a limiting measure of ongoing potential.

How much does the internet weigh? What is the market capitalisation of
Google, and what --harder to characterise accurately qualitatively and
quantitatively -- is its value to us in brinign about a sustainable life
and societies? If, considered societally, our lives have infinite
potential, then the associated economic activity need be no less -- even
if, as Albert Einstein put it in describing our universe, it is
physically merely ¨finite and unbounded¨ like the distance one can
travel across the face of the earth: finite in circumference, but
capable of indefinite extension through travel -- unbounded.

Leaving aside the serious distortions of perceived value occasioned by
capital-activity-based accounting, e.g., where any financially measured
activity is counted as a contribution to domestic product and other
activities which may be as or more life-enhancing are not, we could
certainly argue that even the nature of money is essentially spiritual
and social, not material, because its exchange value -- and what else is
it good for, if not exchange? -- is based on trust relationships --
certainly these days major currency money is not based on gold -- and it
will edure or crash based on the health of those relationships
societally. Look at the US economy.

My question is,

How do we make an effective, i.e., fair and peaceful, non-cataclysmic,
transition to a sustainable economy, one in which the increase in
adverse usage-impacts of the finite material substance of the earth is
reversed, while the potential for improved quality of life continues to
be realised and supported mutually and collectively?

Looking forward imaginatively for practical possibilities,


Matt Burge said...

'The Siberian Timebomb', the most important wake-up call since 'Silent Spring'. For more info on this BBC report track back to my blog or, go to .


I've had an answer back from the Beeb.

The report will be repeated on BBC News 24 over the weekend at the following times;
On 28 October 2006 at 05:30, 14:30 and 21:30 and on 29 October at 03:30 and
14:30 GMT.

Please see if you can.