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The Myth of Sustainable Development

2 September 2013 04:08 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Sustainable Development as it is practised today is essentially a myth. The linear economic growth model that is widely subscribed to across the world today does not promote sustainable development. Any setback in economic growth even in the most developed country is presented as a sign of economic recession that can lead to rising unemployment, decreasing profits, business closures etc. So, no political leader in a developed country can afford to let the economy contract. They pump public money into the economy to stimulate economic activities and increase consumption. President George Bush said that, in a context of economic recession, increasing consumption was a patriotic act on the part of citizens. In the developing world, the desire is to maintain a higher level of growth over time, with the hope that today’s developing economies would achieve the developed country status in the near future.

Expanding economies require more, often non-renewable, natural resources such as water, minerals and metals. Increasing demand for resources leads to higher prices for such resources. For instance,  oil that was sold for 10 dollars a barrel a few decades back has already gone up in price over ten fold. Increasing incomes are often translated into more wasteful consumption, more energy intensive lifestyles and larger carbon footprints, all of which lead to more environmental pollution. It is true that there is a greater emphasis on the use of renewable resources such as solar and wind power today but the exploitation of non-renewable resources continues unabated.

" In this country, people’s representatives have the largest fleets of motor vehicles that are maintained at public expense and often create havoc on our roads, when law enforcement officers are employed to suspend traffic rules, to create road space for them to pass at break neck speed "
As is well known,  there is a greater emphasis on recycling today but the release of pollutants to the environment continues at an alarming rate. This is particularly so in the developing world where environmental pollution has reached crisis proportions, adversely affecting the health and well-being of large sections of the population. In many countries, all kinds of refuse are dumped in their ever-expanding landfills that often pollute the environment around them including common resources such as ground water, water bodies, the soil and the air.

It is obvious that increasing wealth and the personal incomes of a large section of the population in the emerging economies promote unsustainable consumption patterns. Western car culture is spreading at an alarming rate across the developing world leading to traffic congestion in urban areas with attendant negative health and environmental consequences. Western and Asian car companies reap handsome benefits while roads get filled by all kinds of vehicles. Meanwhile public transportation has taken a back seat while there are big road projects that promote private transport. There are hardly any big public transportation projects to stem the spread of private transport. In this country, people’s representatives have the largest fleets of motor vehicles that are maintained at public expense and often create havoc on our roads, when law enforcement officers are employed to suspend traffic rules, to create road space for them to pass at breakneck speed.

When the oil prices began to rise a few decades back, American SUVs became the target of criticism by environmentally conscious people. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of SUVs coming from Japan, S. Korea, China, India, etc as well. SUVs have become a symbol of status and power that affluent people want to embrace. Even environmental experts whose well-articulated mission in life is to promote sustainable development often travel around in SUVs. As is well known, SUVs use several times more fuel than  small family cars.



Sri Lanka is a country where, several decades back, there was a reasonable network of railways connecting much of the country together and public buses that took people around in the rural as well as urban areas. Most people in the country relied on public transport for various purposes. Had we built on the pre-existing systems of public transport by investing more resources to modernize the  railway infrastructure and other modes of public transport like buses and light rail systems, the need for private transport would have been reduced to a great extent. Since public transport often comes as an afterthought, it remains secondary to private transport. But the situation could have been the other way around, if more sustainable, environmentally-sound modes of transport were promoted.

" Had we built on the pre-existing systems of public transport by investing more resources to modernize the  railway infrastructure and other modes of public transport like buses and light rail systems, the need for private transport would have been reduced to a great extent. Since public transport often comes as an afterthought, it remains secondary to private transport "
Much of the morbidity and mortality in the country today is intricately connected to the developments outlined above. While most of the diseases are either related to sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy consumption patterns or are the result of environment pollution, many people die on the roads knocked down by fast moving vehicles on congested roads.

A majority of the people wants to earn ever-increasing incomes but, by the time their incomes reach a higher level, the prices have gone up even farther, making their goal even more illusive. Meanwhile the political leaders promise a doubling of per capita income in a few years. However, more and more people continue to  lag behind,  encouraging them to leave the country in search of  higher income opportunities elsewhere. Increasing remittances sent by these workers, among other things, push the prices even higher, contributing to the vicious cycle that many people remain trapped. In other words, what is happening in the economy, society and the labour market is not socially sustainable.

On a global level, externalities of economic growth manifest in the form of environmental pollution and climate change with attendant short-term and long term consequences. Faced with serious problems of macro-economic management in their own counties, global leaders have become virtually incapable of effectively responding to the climate change crisis. Given this state of affairs,  little is done to address the core issues of climate change, and most countries remain largely pre-occupied with mopping up operations after each environmental disaster. Against this background, how can sustainable development become a realistic perspective for development and social justice for the whole world ?

- By Siri Hettige
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See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.

 


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See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.