What is Sustainable Development? According to the Bruntland Commission report “Our Common Future”, released in 1987, sustainable development is
the kind of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Pretty simple concept no? Of course, it’s an extremely broad and ambiguous definition, but at the heart of it are a few key concepts;
- The idea of needs, particularly those of the worlds poor (which should be given over-riding priority). Food before flatscreens.
- The idea of limitations, particularly the limits of the environment to sustain the level of “needs” for a society.
There are many who would argue that “Sustainable Development” is a leftist, green agenda. If dreaming about the sustainable future of humanity, and the ability of my children and grandchildren (and maybe even great-grandchildren) to have a reasonable quality of life makes me a left leaning liberal with a green worldview, then so be it. The alternative to that dream is pretty depressing.
Imagine for second that you live on a family farm, and it’s the only farm on the planet. You share it with your family, parents, grandparents, your spouse and your young children. One day your parents decide that they’ve worked awfully hard, and have a pretty comfortable life. They’re going to retire, leaving the farm to you.
Feeling celebratory, they decide on a feast. They start to butcher the herd. The grain gets ground into flour. Barley turns into beer, grapes into wine. Normally they would have preserved a lot of the harvest for the long winter ahead, and set aside seed for next year’s planting. But to hell with it. There’s always been plenty of food, the farm has always provided…..
As the party rages over the weeks and months, over-indulgence sets in. It becomes the new normal. You forget about your earlier concerns for awhile, but there’s always something nagging at you. You start to worry that the seed bin is getting awfully low, and the herd is looking pretty thin. The laying hens have been slaughtered for last night’s dinner. Your parents laugh it off, claiming that there’s always been enough. They call you “an alarmist”. Your grandparents on the other hand, start to share in your worry. They remember leaner times when the farm struggled to produce enough for a family half the size. Your kids start to get a little anxious about their future, seeing the stress in their parent’s eyes.
I hope you’ve guessed by now that the farm is analogous to the planet, and the ‘family’ in this story is us, citizens of this planet.
Lately, there’ve been a few critics popping up in Cochrane, challenging the validity of the Cochrane Sustainability Plan (a 50 year vision for a sustainable community). Apparently goals such as “Treating Water as a Precious Resource” and having a “Healthy and Diverse Local Economy” don’t fit with these people’s vision of the future.
Alright then… what IS their vision for the future? Let the party rage all day and night? Drink every last drop, cut down every last tree, pollute every waterway, sell the herd…that works great until we discover that money can’t be eaten. I think the main problem is that they don’t actually understand what the concept of sustainability is, and how it ties into the future of their own children. Because if they did, if they understood that their actions today were limiting the options of their children in the future, well… I hope they’d pause and consider.
Of course, by then spring will have arrived… and we’ll have nothing left to plant.