22 April 2009

Sustainable development?

Sustainability gets to be a confusing word, as it is not clear what it really means and sustainability of what and by whom. The first time I heard the duet Sustainable
Development after the Rio 1992, I could only understand clearly what development meant. As a biologist I have had trouble explaining what is to sustain and for how many. Back then it was the trend to talk about the foot print and how difficult was for me to understand how much a small country like Bolivia could impact. But like Newton and Freyfogle (2005) state, this idea didn't include the notion to protect all life forms and just concludes in a number that tells you how many planets you would need to satisfy your life style.

On the other hand, Jamieson (1998) is correct when he says that there is a psychological resistance to change our modern life, and therefore, to know how many planets would "sustain" our way of life doesn't engage us into any commitment or any concern when it seems easier to substitute any resource for another. Instead of the regular car now you can substitute with a “hybrid” car. And let’s not forget the green market available now! Today we see green vegetables, green electronic gadgets, green billing, all under the promise of being “more” environmental conscious. And what about demanding better public transportation system? Or why do we need to have strawberries the whole year (importing them if necessary to supply the demand). The change of a plastic bag for a cloth bag one won’t help us much if we don’t really change our life style and remember some values that have been covered with dust: respect and love for all our environment.

Indeed there is a development in first world countries (is it sustainable?) but third world countries are sustaining this model. I can think about the alligator case study. In countries like Bolivia and Argentina the population of alligators was decreasing due to a higher demand for their skin to produce leather products. The solution was to categorize this species inside the IUCN red list and implement some regulations commanded from the main IUCN offices in Switzerland. The result is a management plan where alligators are being reproduced in farms and some are being released to their “normal” environment. What about the rest of alligators? They are decorating the fashion walk in Europe. I haven’t found yet reports on the conditions that these farms require and what impact these farms are having on the “normal” alligator environment. Let’s not forget that this “normal” environment shelters other species that might also have a word to say.

Such a revolutionary idea like sustainable development was successful only in certain parts of the world and not in general. Do we need to construct our own definition of sustainability for different scenarios? Or should we turn again into a more conservationist perspective?

When I was about to post this... I found a controversial (for me at least) link: The objective standard. I can only figure out that this is a bunch of ultra capitalists/republicans who only view one way to live. But in the land of fantasies, everything is possible...even the UNTHINKABLE! (disgusting)

- Jamieson, D. 1998. Sustainability and beyond. In: Ecological Economics. Vol. 24. pp: 183-192.
- Newton, J. A. and E. Freyfogle. 2005. Sustainability: a Dissent. In: Conservation Biology. Vol. 9 No 1. pp: 23-32.