December 2, 2010
When I awoke this morning to the site of an utterly white landscape outside and texts from Leeds Met cancelling the day’s lectures, naturally my thoughts turned to ‘what should I ask for this Christmas?’
‘Iphone or Blackberry?’ I pondered to myself. To take my mind off this conundrum, I started reading over my notes on Brendan Sheehan’s seminar on Sustainable Development. I suddenly felt a great deal of guilt and somewhat spoiled.
Out of a global population of 6.9 billion people, 2 billion people live on less than $2 a day. 1 Billion live on less than $1. Really puts thing in perspective. I already have far more than I really need, but that’s still not enough.
There’s always something new, better and more expensive than the things I already have, at an increasing rate. I guess the man behind this ‘all-consuming self’ conception is Edward Bernays, godfather of PR. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0OrT-8gXMs (this video’s worth a watch).
Bernays was the first to apply Freud’s psychodynamic emphasis on dream analysis to a consumerist culture, where people’s desires take precedence over their needs – a formula for an economic boom and the birth of ‘supercapitalism’.
I don’t mean to ‘name and shame’ a man I respect dearly, and I’m not a green peace activist or anything like that. After all it’s this kind of mentality that stimulates economic growth, drives technological progress, creates more jobs and improves quality of life and wellbeing.
What does this have to with sustainable development?
Resources and fossils fuels are depleting, China and India will soon be (some may argue they already are) world superpowers, competing and creating new industries and markets and for resources, consequently the worlds’ population is estimated to soar to 9 billion by 2040.
In light of these factors, the concept of sustainable development is seemingly an ideal, despite many initiatives being taken to reduce and recycle, we have still yet to come up with a way to ensure our development is completely sustainable. Nonetheless development in renewable energies is looking optimistic.
The point is by definition, a free market capitalist economy conflicts with sustainable development because free markets produce economic growth, accelerating development.
The current recession is a perfect example of unsustainable development, too much money was being loaned to match repayments (in a nutshell) causing deficits and insolvency.
Sustainable development it seems is a myth. Our society and culture will always want more. Look at me, I’m at university because I( and 50% of post 18 year olds in the UK) want to better my prospects and hopefully earn more than I would have otherwise. I was not content with developing sustainably. And to be honest, what’s wrong with that? Isn’t creativity and progress the essence of humanity? And democracy?
Perhaps I’m being too harsh, many commentators will argue that measures have been taken to develop in a sustainable way whether that be planting 3 trees for every 1 you cut down, switching bulbs to low energy, investing in solar panels and wind turbines and waste less and recycle. But the wholly definition provided by the ‘Brundtland Report’ ensures subjective analysis and interpretation, how can we measure: ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ ? With no quantifiable means of measurement or a comprehensive, practical strategy to be imposed upon us, how can we use this definition?
Corporations will continue to exploit market niches and grow, and maybe our technocentrism will pay off, and we will find ways to cap our emissions and meet our energy needs more efficiently. But our compulsion to desire what we don’t have has been rigorously programmed into us from a very early age. Sustainable Development is a nice idea, but in practise has not and will not be so eagerly implemented because of the ramifications it would have to business and industry and economic growth.
We know our resources are dwindling (the IEA predicts oil prices to rise to $200 a barrel by 2035), we know climate change is inevitable, we know we are developing too fast for our own good, but it will take more than this for us all to embrace the notion of sustainable development openly into our everyday lives. I can guarantee Christmas at my house this year will be one of merry excess and looming credit card bills and I’m sure yours will be very similar.