Mankind’s triumph is unequivocal. By standing on the shoulders of the aviation pioneers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, we have put time and distance in chains. Louise Pasteur gave as the germ theory, supplanting primordial explanations of disease such as poisonous air. Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch made possible the nourishment of our soils and detonated the human population time bomb.
In less than two centuries: we have concentrated unprecedented wealth in the hands of a few and produced a dangerously unequal world; we have fouled, gravely, our atmospheric commons; we have triggered unparalleled mass extinction of invaluable plants and animals; we have poisoned our soils water and atmosphere in order to feed and cloth ourselves; our ignorance stoke the fires of religious, racial, ethnic and gender intolerance; our greed and governance failure on global scale threaten the world’s economic stability.
There is no bigger and more urgent challenge facing our civilization than attaining a sustainable future. Essentially, sustainability is about bequeathing posterity the same or even better livelihood opportunities than we enjoy today. That sustainability entails trade-offs presents a veritable obstacle for action. Individuals and societies often discount the needs of future generations, savoring the pleasures of consumption in the present moment. Discounting is largely a testament of how uncertain we are about the future.
The United Nations Conference on sustainable development held in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil did not go far enough in advancing ideas that recognize and match the scale of the sustainability challenge. A fundamental obstacle to attaining the “Future We Want”, a vision advanced at the Rio+20, is the fact that we are unclear about an agreeable discount formulae for the wellbeing of the future generations; our children. We are unable to contain our present consumption, chart a path toward sustainability and secure the interest of future generations.
Overburdened by the enduring failure of global collective action to achieve a sustainable future, a band of scholars, policy and decision makers, business leaders and politicians have begun to frame a new a broader vision for a sustainable future. In January 2013, the King of Bhutan convened an international expert group to frame a New Development Paradigm.
At the core of this paradigm are equitable and sustainable wellbeing of human beings and the rest of nature. This radically challenges mankind’s pre-ordained supremacy and power over all creation. The philosophy of the New Development Paradigm is inhered in Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness idea, which maintains that faced with ecological and social devastation wrought by the world view of the last century, we can re-embed economic life in the social community and within the integrity of nature.
Writing in Solutions, a new hybrid academic online journal, a group of global thoughtful individuals led by Robert Costanza – a leading ecological economist and professor of public policy – have proposed five ideas upon which to build a new paradigm for the future we really want. These ideas include:
1. Achieving well-being and happiness by strengthening social support networks through family, community, and workplace, hence promoting holistic life-long learning to enhance civic, cultural, ecological, health, and financial literacy;
2. Attaining ecological sustainability through investing in sustainable infrastructure, such as renewable clean energy, energy efficiency, support for green businesses, public transit, and transition to sustainable agriculture to feed the earth’s population without destroying soil, water and biodiversity resource and hasten progress toward low carbon growth pathway;
3. Building a sustainable economy through implementing integrated bottom line reporting for private sector companies and governments to enable them to identify and manage the business benefits of more sustainable practices; reforming national accounting systems, and ensure that prices reflect actual social and environmental costs goods and services;
4. Creating an equitable society by recognizing that greater equality enriches our pursuit for happiness, strengthens social cohesion and reduces status competition and reduces differences in living conditions an other well-being outcomes;
5. Fostering dynamic and inclusive communities in which the values of inclusion, thoughtful reflection, mutual and distributed accountability infuse every sphere of public life as well as strengthening the voice of citizens in decision making by augmenting formal representation in governance with enlightened participation.
As always, the devil is in implementation. What is needed now is to galvanize national accountability and local action at the community level to secure our children’s future. It begins with you.