Paul J. Dejillas, Ph.D.
Professor of Anthropology
The indicators of sustainable development are designed to address common environmental problems like acid rain, pollution, deforestation, desertification, flooding, global warming, hazardous wastes, extinction of several species, loss of ecosystem, ozone depletion, water shortages, and wetland destruction. On the other hand, we see that the means to propel our economic progress seem to defy the very purpose for which it is intended to achieve. For these indicators at the same time promote the development of housing subdivisions, high-rise condominiums, hotels, parking lots, roads, factories, mines, shopping malls, schools, artificial gardens, golf courses, mining, oil exploration, etc. In the name of progress, our natural resources are slowly disintegrating by over-harvesting, overgrazing, and the excessive use of pesticides and herbicides. Our seas and coastal lines are continually bombarded with dynamites and chemicals that destroy our coral reefs and also expose our now-unprotected shoreline to storms’
What progress has been attained ecologically since the formulation of the various global Conventions on sustainable development? Many of these international Conventions are still fresh on our minds and many of us participated in some of their gatherings: the Agenda 21 of the Rio de Janeiro on Global Environment and Development; the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; the Basel Convention on Hazardous Waste; the Convention on Biological Diversity; the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora; the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depletion; the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification; the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands; and the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development.
It took Nature to build our atmosphere, biosphere, and ecosystem four billion years; it took humanity only a few decades to inflict enormous, nearing irreparable, damage on its ecosystem … all in the name of development. And yet development still remains a dream and promise to many of us. Global poverty and inequality are not only intensifying, they are often the cause of crimes and violence that are now threatening to escalate into civil and global wars. We are only seeing signs of illusory progress, a kind of economic development that inherently breeds irreversible ecological degradation. We are handing down to our generations a largely broken and impoverished world.
There is something terribly wrong with our prevailing sustainable-development paradigm.
Business enterprises and their profit-making ventures enriched only their owners, managers, and financiers but they left behind footprints of widespread poverty and massive environmental destruction. While good hearted, non-governmental organizations and foundations alleviated poverty and slowed down the pace of environmental damage, they did this only on a retail basis, so to speak. Big business corporations continue to create ecological problems at wholesale proportions.
Maybe we need a paradigm shift from a largely economist view of sustainable development to a more holistic, multi-dimensional view. We need a paradigm that is not focused purely on short-, medium-term, but on long-term preservations and benefits that take serious consideration the welfare of the many generations that are still coming.