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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


March-April 2009

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On the Politics of Sustainability a Long Way Ahead

We as humans love to forecast, but we seldom get our predictions right. Even when we feel we have explored all possible scenarios, some events still surprise us. Oil price rises, food shortages caused in part by diversion to biofuels, terrorist events, and the possible demise of the bumblebee in Europe all caught us off guard. To imagine what might be very long-term effects of decisions taken today is now a respectable scientific enterprise. It involves creative artists, storytellers, novelists, and playwrights, as well as some of the most imaginative scientific modelers. Yet we still do not really know whether we are creating conditions for a malleable, adaptive society with governing arrangements that promote ecological resilience, social justice, human well-being, and security, or whether we are inadvertently promoting a brittle and fractious society whose constituents will fight among themselves,  some surviving at the expense of the others. We face a highly uncertain future, and it may need to become even more uncertain if sustainability is ever to occur. We neither know, nor have any effective means of shaping, what instruments of governing to use to provide a reliable and sustainable livelihood for all humanity at the end of the century.

This particular theme formed the essential arguments of Sustaining Europe for a Long Way Ahead: Making Long-Term Sustainable Development Policies Work, a statement presented to the annual meeting of the Network of European Environmental and Sustainable Development Advisory Councils (EEAC) in October 2008. The EEAC brings the work and lobbying of the various national government environmental and sustainable development advisory bodies throughout the European Union to a common purpose: to move to a new and more sustainable concept of development. The statement aims to evaluate how well various aspects of modern societies and economies plan for, and adapt to, thinking, assessing, and acting far into the future. It began accordingly by defining its conception of sustainability:

Sustainable development seeks to ensure that humankind cares for the needs and interests of all people, among different nations and between generations, in such a way that all are treated fairly and with justice. Such a robust society will act in such a way as to maintain and enhance the life support functions of the planet, and will establish an economy designed to foster livelihoods that create both prosperity and a fundamental sense of personal and collective wellbeing. This trajectory encompasses not only all citizens alive today, but all generations to come. Their wellbeing should be intrinsically “our” wellbeing. Sustainable development requires transformation and innovation in the public and private sectors, creativity in society, the capacity to anticipate future effects, to act with precaution and prevention, and to make responsible decisions affecting the vitality of the future.

To accomplish this task, the EEAC considered eight connected themes: governance, social justice, budgets, markets, cultures, demography, regionalism and localism, and education and learning.

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