Sustainable Future Needs More Equality
March 30 2005
Sustainable Future Needs More Equality, Less Rhetoric
A specialist in global sustainability says the future for the human race rests increasingly on acknowledging a moral obligation to unborn generations and learning from the way natural systems work.
Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffiths University, says sustainability is now very much part of the political rhetoric, but for most politicians the economy is still the top priority.
Delivery a keynote address to the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand, Lowe observed that the global human footprint exceeded the planet’s limits 25 years ago. “And so we are now in ecological deficit. If it were an economic deficit, there would be calls for heads to roll, but when it’s an ecological deficit, no-one in a position of power seems to mind.”
He urged political leaders to serve future generations rather than the economy. “The economy is a subset of the environment – an important subset - but it is not the reason we exist or our fundamental support system.
“If we are serious abut sustainability we should ensure that our children are educated to the best of our ability and that they reject the idea that consumption is a moral obligation to keep the economy moving.”
He said it was vital for nations to address social inequality. “Even Adam Smith (the “father of modern economics” and author of “Wealth of Nations”) recognised that markets only function in a stable society, and that was 230 years ago.”
Lowe said there had been some real success stories in improving sustainability – such as the growth of wind power and more efficient buildings – but time was running out. The long time lag between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change meant that the earth’s temperature would continue to rise for centuries.
He said the most positive global forecasts suggested that market forces will overcome problems of resource availability, or that strong political and leadership will achieve comprehensive policy reform. The more negative forecasts suggest a “fortress world” in which the “haves” fight to repel the “have nots”, or worse, a descent in barbarism.
Lowe says the best hope is for a Great Transition, in which societies choose to become sustainable, based on a shift in human values, with change occurring from the bottom-up.
“A sustainable society will use resources sustainably to support a dynamic and flexible economy. It will be a zero-waste society with drastically reduced CO2 emissions, a stabilized global population and ecological footprint, and an acknowledged requirement for gains in biodiversity. It will be committed to social equity and serious about a triple-bottom line assessment of its policies and proposals, with processes in place for making difficult decisions.”
“Sustainability is a moral obligation; the future is not something we are destined to arrive at, it is something we are creating.”