Sustainable development, a global approach
Towards a global development
To take the so-called sustainable development into account does not consist in giving more priority to the economic “growth” than to the environmental “protection”. It is a matter of global development considering just as well economic, environmental, social and institutional issues, which are all interdependent. Talking about global development leads to favour the balance between the development components rather than the “growth” of one of them. Note that it has nothing to do with any aggregation procedure of the various components, which would neglect their interdependence: the world is not a puzzle. It is a matter of harmony of the whole, reflection of the primeval Unity governing the world.
Developing a country economically before caring about the environmental “protection” is a non sense. Meanwhile, the economic “growth” will destroy the future development possibilities. Thus, the biological diversity losses will be all the more irreversible and final that we will never know what has been lost. Indeed, we only know 1.75 millions of plants and animals among an extraordinary diversity covering millions of species.
Sustainability is based on a global vision of development, combining a number of approaches, which have, before all, to be coordinated. The concept of sustainable development, which means to address the “needs”, the aspirations of the present generations while preserving the development capacities of future generations, calls for the following observations from the theoretical, implementation and general point of view:
From the theoretical point of view
It is essential to promote an economic development that really takes nature into account. In contrast to their successors, the founders of the classical economy were not totally unaware of it.
The famous “invisible hand” from Adam Smith, according to which the search for a personal interest contributed to the collective interest, does not operate in the short, but long term. John Stuart Mill took the use of resources into consideration in his works. David Ricardo was very interested in the renewal of the so-called natural “capital”. Karl Marx suggested that the so-called capitalist production mode was going to cut the being from his environment and accelerate the environmental degradation.
All these considerations, basic from the sustainable development point of view, were somewhat forgotten until the recent concern of “economizing” nature, i.e. putting a price on everything. Now, is it possible to appreciate the value of a species, of which we do not even know today the potential richness ? Besides, does the isolation of a species from its environment make sense ? What would the being be, without the air he breathes, the water he drinks, the food he absorbs or the earth carrying him ? All that brings us back to the necessity of a global approach 1 of the relationships between the being and his environment in order to give an account of the reality of the world. For more details, see Spirit and body.
From the implementation point of view
It is notably a matter to put the temporal (short/long term), spatial (geographical levels) and actor (individuals/together) dimensions into an integrated perspective:
1. Integrating the short term decisions into a long term perspective seems obvious from the sustainable development point of view. Nevertheless, this aspect is to say at least neglected, if not forgotten in most societies today, apart, may be, from the Bhutanese one. It is sufficient to evoke an example among so many others to be convinced.
The European Union and Canada subsidized, in the decades 1970 and 1980, the expansion and/or the modernization of the fishing fleet and offered assistance to the fishermen to stay on the pier a few years later. And yet, the decline of fish resources was a mystery for nobody. Farming in general and vineyards in particular would offer other examples whenever needed. This lack of integration is obvious regarding land use where marshes drying up, road and property constructions etc. resulted in flooded zones and recurrent dramas.
To avoid these dramas, it would be beneficial not to let short term particular interests to win over the long term collective interest. This could be done while reasoning in generation terms instead of years. Setting up, for example, objectives at the horizon of a generation would allow the reinforcement of inter generational links between the decision-makers in the forties and the new generation in the twenties. The younger would then be able to appreciate the objectives fixed by the elder and see if they have been achieved when they take control and so on. Energy conservation could be a unifier theme among others. One can not say that a generation is a long period. The time becomes unbelievably short when we reason in terms of generations: a century covers only 4 generations and a millennium 40.
2. Integrating the different geographic levels implied in the decisions seems to be obvious. It matters that these decisions are adapted to each of the concerned levels.
In this way, international treaties should apply to all geographic levels. Nevertheless, they often suffer from heavy handicaps in this respect: unending negotiations, various interpretations, vague commitments, no ratification, a lack of means, bureaucratic procedures, absence of follow-up mechanisms etc. One might as well say that they only serve a purpose for debate as without any implementation at national or regional or even local levels, they are nearly words on a piece of paper.
This integration of different geographic levels is particularly important for vital issues such as agriculture. A sustainable agriculture will be born the day development of non polluting productive practices will be centred on the local level. Then, they will allow to avoid environmental costs (pollution and transport notably) linked to a worldwide and standardized production that does not respect the biological and cultural diversity.
3. Integrating the individual actors in the overall effects they are generating. It is natural that the impacts shared by the greatest number are globally considered due to their massive effects.
We have only to think of the traffic congestion at the city outskirts during certain hours of the day or within regions during certain periods of the year. The widening of a highway or the construction of a motorway to unblock the traffic will do nothing but attract other vehicles and even worsen the situation. Putting more high-performing and less costly vehicles on the market will not necessarily reduce the global impact if these vehicles are more numerous or used more intensely. Moreover, the new vehicles will replace second-hand ones, which will be sold in the country or abroad and simply generate a pollution transfer.
Resorting to a technological solution on its own does nothing but postpone a situation that will become intolerable in the end. The heart of the solution lies in a better balance, shared by the greatest number, between the various transport modes. Then, a negative global impact could turn into a global positive one.
From a general point of view
Before all, let us try to see to what extent a global approach differs from the commonly applied one.
Globalizing is not standardizing
Standardization supposes beings lacking qualities and reduced to simple numerical “unities”. Now, standardization has no sense in spite of all the efforts undertaken to realize it, notably in the domain of the living. Its realization can only end in depriving beings of their proper qualities and converting them into interchangeable “unities”. This results in the absurd idea that beings are equally capable of everything and anything. Integrating the environmental and social costs, externalized by the economic activity, into the prices to establish the conditions of a real competition, yes; putting a price on any living species, no.
The tendency to standardize leads to the acceleration of the economic “growth” without ensuring that the required offer of natural “goods and services” will follow 2. While becoming more and more dependent on natural resources and goods and services as well, societies are increasing their vulnerability regarding non anticipated disruptions. Now, this risk is higher for artificial than natural systems. The degrees of diversity and resiliency (capacity to adapt to external changes) of natural systems allow them to better face exceptional circumstances.
Thus, founding the production of cereals on some high-performing varieties let humanity and domesticated cattle run a serious risk in case of epiphytotic.
The Western being does not only apply these views in his own country, he also wants to impose them to other regions. They are often matching usual mental habits meant to standardize the entire planet.
For example, it is form today to fight pollution while furthering the transfer of advanced technologies, measured in terms of eco-efficiency 3, from “rich” to “poor” countries. That happens through investments, expertise transfers, training and financing programs etc. Would it not be better, before embarking on these costly projects, to wonder if more adapted, less costly and elaborated in concert techniques could not be more appropriate ?
In reality, beings do not meet at the level of their physical manifestation only, but of their essential unity covering all aspects: physical, psychical and spiritual. Therefore, the following paradox: while neglecting the being diversity, we neglects the Unity governing him and far from getting a unified world, we end in a standardized world deprived of sense, soul and Spirit.
Globalizing means considering the whole world diversity and even more
A global comprehension of the world sends us back to a state of mind, a state of being in agreement with the Unity governing it:
- Globalizing means to com-prehend, i.e. to combine, the various aspects of development while respecting their specificity;
- Globalizing means to approach a unitary vision of the world beyond its diversified manifestation;
- Globalizing means to rediscover the reflection of the Unity governing the world within each of us.
There is no global approach without global being. The first task of a society consists in re-centring the being on his globality, his proper nature at once physical, psychical and spiritual. This is the only way that leads to the true realization of individuals (from the Latin “individuum”, indivisible or one) in the sense of accomplished beings, i.e. having reached the union of their “inner” and “outer” nature. Only the being unified within himself is able to understand the relations that unite him to the “outer” world.
It follows that sustainable development should firstly favour the harmony of the relationships between the being and the surrounding environment, between social and environmental issues in a perspective of inter generational solidarity. As a Chinese Wise man said: “A generation opens the path, another one will walk along”.
- René Guénon:
- “The Great Triad”. South Asia Books Publisher;
- Particularly, chapters 11 titled “spiritus, anima, corpus” and 13 dealing with “the being and the environment”.
- “The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times”. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1972;
- Especially, chapters 7 related to “uniformity against unity” and 11 concerning “Unity and simplicity”.
1 back Note that a global perspective considers the complementarities rather than the oppositions, characteristic of an analytical approach.
2 back The realization of artificial modifications of the world presupposes an adequacy of natural modifications. Indeed, the first ones conform to the seconds according to the correspondence between the human and cosmic orders. Man shows a great innocence or presumption when he believes he can dominate nature. In fact, his ways of thinking try to align with natural processes. He elaborates processes and products in accordance with accessible natural and energy resources. As Francis Bacon said in the book “Novum Organum” (1620): “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.”
3 back Eco-efficiency evaluates how far a product or a process uses less resources and rejects less waste for the same result. It is commonly accepted to establish a distinction between “effectiveness” and “efficiency”. The first is related to the pursued goal (sustainability) and the second to the means implemented to reach it (the way of using natural resources for example). This is the whole difference between “doing the right things” and “doing the things right”.