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WorldChanging at the Podium
Alex Steffen, 19 Feb 04

Bay Area WorldChangers will have not one, but two (count 'em, two) opportunities over the next week to hear us go off live and in person.

First, Jamais and I will be giving a talk at the Future Salon, tomorrow, Friday February 20th. Our subject is, well, changing the world.

Friday, February 20th
7:00 pm
Open Source Applications Foundation
543 Howard St. 5th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105 (map)

Then WorldChanging contributor Alan AtKisson will be giving a lecture at Cal on Wednesday (a fuller description in the extended entry):

"Sustainable Development in Crisis"
Wed. Feb. 25 2004, 11-12:30, Room 106 Wurster, UC Berkeley Campus
Introduced by John Landis, Chair, Department of Environmental Studies

Come on by! And introduce yourselves: we'd love to meet you.

Is Sustainable Development sustainable?  More important, is it leading to sustainability?

In 1987, when the Brundtland Commission formally introduced the world to the concept of "sustainable development," there was not much to the concept besides a vision:  end poverty while protecting the environment.  The coupling between "sustainable development," a socio-economic construction, and the more science-based concept of "sustainability" -- living within systemic limits, as dictated by nature's laws and the structure of human societies -- was not strong.  

The Agenda 21 agreement struck at Rio made sustainable development the guiding concept for international cooperation, defined the term in enormous breadth and scope ... and further left unaddressed the question of whether sustainable development would lead to sustainability.  

Today the two terms are used interchangeably -- and erroneously.  "Sustainability" is the umbrella for a vast array of activities, including "sustainable development" activities, and ranging from "Local Agenda 21" programs at the local level to international cooperative agreements, and from studies of what the earth's ecosystems can tolerate to new corporate reporting standards.

Despite the enormous swell of activity under this umbrella, it is still unclear to many what the concept means in real, operational terms.  Often, "sustainable development"  (SD) initiatives amount to so many words, without clear purpose, measurable outcome, or meaningful engagement.  Too often, the scale and pace of transformative change required to meet the conditions of sustainability are not part of the SD picture.  And far too often, SD initiatives lack the compelling quality of vision, something worth striving for.

There are, of course, many laudable examples of SD initiatives leading to positive change.  But many of the real and pressing problems that sustainable development was meant to address -- the problem of meeting expanding human needs while protecting the ecological basis of life and civilization -- continue to worsen, generally at accelerating rates.  Many trends have reached or passed inflection points where some resulting catastrophic loss is either already at hand, or nearly assured.  And yet, at a time of rapidly increasing need, engagement with sustainable development is not strong.  Indeed, engagement is by some measures increasing, by others declining.

What is the situation?  Is there a problem with "sustainable development"?  Is there a more fundamental problem with humanity's capacity to understand it and put it into practice?  Or is the crisis of sustainable development -- for the movement is not yet fulfilling its promise, or its purpose -- a function of specific political and economic conditions?  

In any event, what can we do accelerate progress toward genuine sustainability?

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I really wish I could make this, guys. Good luck!

Posted by: Howard on 19 Feb 04



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