“Sustainable development implies a revolution in the way we now do business.” – Bill Ruckelshaus
– a resume of the Brundtland Revisited – 25 years after the Brundtland Commission presented its landmark report on sustainable development, its lead author reflects on what has happened since.
– by Jim MacNeill
Our Common Future serves notice that the time has come for a marriage of economy and ecology, so that governments and their people can take responsibility not just for environmental damage, but for the policies that cause the damage. Some of these policies threaten the survival of the human race. They can be changed. But we must act now.
“You can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking you used when you created them.” – Albert Einstein
We not only failed to catch up with the legacy of the past, but we also could not even keep up with the steady day-by-day increase in pollution and degradation and loss of resource and environmental capital.
SOCIETY + CORPORQTE WORLD + GOVERNMENTS
We leaned heavily on civil society in preparing Our Common Future, but the sector we worked with was a mere baby compared to the giant of today. It is now almost a new estate of governance – a fifth estate, with enormous influence and global reach. With iPods and Facebook, members of civil society today can mobilize thousands in a minute and bring millions onto the streets. Witness recent events in the Arab world. And as a megaphone for Mother Nature, its impact has never been greater.
As for the private sector, hundreds of companies have come on board. It’s a mixed bag, of course. Not all companies, or even a majority of them, are on board. But a growing number are, and that’s progress.
I think I can say the same for governments, although, outside of northern Europe, their numbers are fearfully small. Northern Europe has led the way on Kyoto, on new energy and environmental technologies, and on the politically difficult process of shifting the burden of taxation from income to carbon.
Other bright spots can be found in Asia. Take China. It is today a huge new burden on the global environment, soon to surpass the West. But recently, it has also become our largest generator of solar and wind power. My friend Maurice Strong, who spends considerable time in Beijing, recently told me that China plans to build 100 new and green cities, with populations of one million or more, over the next 20 years.
All in all, significant progress has been since 1987, and the pace is picking up. Yet, we are, as you know, in a much deeper mess today than we were then.
Virtually everyone hails this growth as good news. After all, it has, as I said, brought a significant reduction in levels of poverty in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. It has also brought new jobs and rising incomes, and, along with that, new dignity, independence, and hope for hundreds of millions of people who never had any hope before. It has also brought education, better health, and longer life expectancies.
Isn’t that just what the commission called for? Shouldn’t we then continue to focus on creating more of it, and then still more?
The commission did, in fact, call for a huge increase in global growth to lift billions in the Third World out of poverty. And, frankly, I can’t think of any other single recommendation in Our Common Future that has resulted in more misunderstanding. Caveats are usually misunderstood – or ignored – and that call came with a large number of caveats.
In calling for a huge increase in global growth, we insisted that new growth must not be a continuation of the resource-consumptive and ecologically destructive model of the past. We insisted – indeed, our whole report insists – that future growth must be based on forms of development that are economically, socially, and ecologically sustainable. If it is not, we said, “our future will be in peril.”
PUBLIC PRESSURE & BUILDING COMMUNITIES
What, then, will it take to enable our leaders to change the unsustainable course we are on? What will it take to enable them to enact the policy and institutional changes needed, and at the scale needed, to make a difference? Given the race we are in and the speed we are travelling, scale is everything.
There are many more political leaders today who have read the evidence and accept that
(a) we are on an unsustainable course and
(b) we are running out of time.
But on their own, they can, and will, change very little.
In order to act, they need to feel the pressure of public opinion breathing down their necks and driving them forward.
If the past is any guide, this won’t happen until we experience another huge pressure wave of public concern – a third wave of global scale and significance.
If the public cannot be aroused, we may simply have to wait until Mother Nature suffers a massive heart attack, the equivalent of a climate 9/11. Public awareness and fear may then bring people by the millions into the streets and thereby empower our leaders to finally stand up and override the powerful coalitions blocking action and actually implement measures to curb the growth of fossil-fuel production and consumption.
Perhaps it will take more than one shock to the system. We may need a series, each strong enough that to ignore it would threaten a government’s chances of re-election.
“we all have a duty to hope” – Barbara Ward
When the environmental stars align once again, and the power of an aroused public opinion combines with that of civil society, the progressive business and corporate world, and enlightened political leadership to drive the massive policy and institutional changes required for a sustainable future, the politically impossible could become the politically inevitable almost overnight. It has happened before.
full article: Brundtland Revisited