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The argument between ecologists and economists has been that the former have stressed the first course of action and the economists the latter.

e-book Orientation of Life Forms to Inherent Energy/Polarity of the Natural Environment: Part 2

It is evident that in a crisis, both possibilities have to be carefully explored. There are environmental strains, such as the multiplying of populations, that at some point become incompatible with both the maintenance of the environment and the quality of life. By the year , for example, it is projected that there will be three billion more people on Earth than today. The task of feeding, clothing and sheltering them will be enormous, that of providing them with education, employment, security and a minimum of well-being and satisfaction vastly greater still.

These facts of life must not be ignored. But neither should the capacity of humanity to find and invent solutions be overlooked or minimized.

How small communities respond to environmental change: patterns from tropical to polar ecosystems

The higher levels of production required by three billion additional people will certainly inflict serious damage upon the environment unless modes of production change significantly in the coming decades. Fortunately, this is what is happening. As this document is being prepared, the invention of a fuel cell has been announced that, it is claimed, is capable of directly converting hydrocarbons, such as gasoline, into electricity, with nearly twice the efficiency of an internal combustion engine and without the production of carbon-dioxide or other pollutants.

Within ten to twenty years, the introduction of automobiles, buses and trucks powered by such fuel cells is expected to substantially improve air quality in large cities of industrialized countries. Whether the cost of this new technology will be affordable in the developing regions of the world in the near future is of central importance and, as yet, unclear.

Of greater relevance to developing countries, major breakthroughs are being made in agriculture which allow farmers to produce more food on less land while reducing the impact on the environment. Moreover, the widening use of computers and the growing reach of the new information and communication technologies are ensuring a far more rapid and wider dissemination and application of innovations than was the case even a decade ago.


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While such developments are highly encouraging, it would be imprudent to expect science and technology to find a solution to every problem that humanity is capable of creating for itself. Nor would it be wise to rely on technical solutions alone without considering the capacity of human societies to adjust to the changes and stresses that they may impose. But it would be equally short-sighted to overlook the capacity of people to invent solutions to problems or to find ingenious ways of coping with such problems.

The concept of sustainable development is informed by both the warnings of environmentalists and the arguments of economists in favour of development. It seeks to strike a realistic balance between dangers and possibilities, hopes and fears, aspirations and constraints. Yet, while there are many definitions of sustainable development, it can perhaps be better understood as an emerging vision rather than as a neatly defined concept or relationship. In truth, it is as much an ethical precept as a scientific concept, as concerned with notions of equity as with theories of global warming.

Environmental Ethics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Sustainable development is widely understood to involve the natural sciences and economics, but it is even more fundamentally concerned with culture: with the values people hold and how they perceive their relations with others. It responds to an imperative need to imagine a new basis for relationships among peoples and with the habitat that sustains human life.

Its strength is that it frankly acknowledges the interdependence of human needs and environmental requirements. In so doing, it rejects the single-minded pursuit of one objective at the cost of others. But neither can the preservation of the environment be achieved at the cost of maintaining half of humanity in poverty. Or, in the terms in which the debate is sometimes posed, we cannot sacrifice people to save elephants, but neither can we — at least not for very long — save the people by sacrificing the elephants.

Indeed, this is a false dichotomy that must be rejected. It is widely agreed that education is the most effective means that society possesses for confronting the challenges of the future. Indeed, education will shape the world of tomorrow. Progress increasingly depends upon the products of educated minds: upon research, invention, innovation and adaptation. Of course, educated minds and instincts are needed not only in laboratories and research institutes, but in every walk of life.

Indeed, access to education is the sine qua non for effective participation in the life of the modern world at all levels. Education, to be certain, is not the whole answer to every problem. But education, in its broadest sense, must be a vital part of all efforts to imagine and create new relations among people and to foster greater respect for the needs of the environment. Education must not be equated with schooling or formal education alone. It includes non-formal and informal modes of instruction and learning as well, including traditional learning acquired in the home and community.

International organizations, government departments and institutions, foundations and many others are deeply involved in education in the broad sense of the term used here. Many firms in the private sector also see the need to play their part in promoting awareness and are doing so in innovative ways: for example, through sponsoring the publication of articles in newspapers and journals exploring environmental and social issues.

This vast community of educators represents an enormously potent, but largely untapped human-resource for sustainable development that can be invaluable in a range of contexts as well as education. It represents, above all, a means for bringing the struggle for sustainable development into communities and local institutions around the world which, in the final analysis, is where the cause of sustainable development will either triumph or fail.

Education serves society in a variety of ways. The goal of education is to make people wiser, more knowledgeable, better informed, ethical, responsible, critical and capable of continuing to learn.

Coleridge's theory of life

Education also serves society by providing a critical reflection on the world, especially its failings and injustices, and by promoting greater consciousness and awareness, exploring new visions and concepts, and inventing new techniques and tools. Education is also the means for disseminating knowledge and developing skills, for bringing about desired changes in behaviours, values and lifestyles, and for promoting public support for the continuing and fundamental changes that will be required if humanity is to alter its course, leaving the familiar path that is leading towards growing difficulties and possible catastrophe, and starting the uphill climb towards sustainability.

Awareness is a prelude to informed action. In democratic societies, action towards sustainable development will ultimately depend on public awareness, understanding and support. Common information and shared understandings, however, are important not only for mobilizing public support, but also for carrying out work consultative and participatory approaches in all fields.

Public awareness and understanding are, at once, consequences of education and influences on the educational process. A public well informed of the need for sustainable development will insist that public educational institutions include in their curricula the scientific and other subject matters needed to enable people to participate effectively in the numerous activities directed towards achieving sustainable development. The students that emerge from such courses will, for their part, be alert to the need for public authorities to make adequate provision for the protection of the environment in all development plans.

An approach that emphasizes local issues, rather than global ones, is likely to be most effective in dealing with this constituency. This may account, in part, for the success of non-formal community education and local environmental communication programmes in reaching and sensitizing people to environmental and development issues in both developing and industrialized countries. A particular benefit of such programmes is that they are often directly linked to action to control or solve the problems identified. Advocates of sustainable development and the environmentalists who proceeded them have learned much about how to communicate effectively.

It was assumed that the facts would speak for themselves. It is important to explore the difficulties that arose in order that they may be avoided in the future. There are several sorts of problems: the influence of vested interests, the neglect or inadequacy of communication strategies, the complexity of the messages and the unfortunate tendency of some of the messengers to spend more time squabbling with one another than communicating with the public. In any struggle — including one to win over the minds of the public — it is important to understand the motives and strengths of those on the other side of the issue.

Naively, one might imagine that few would find reason to oppose measures necessary to avoid potentially calamitous consequences for humanity. But, alas, what is good for humanity in general may nonetheless be costly and inconvenient to particular individuals, groups and other vested interests. Regulation is not going to come about on the basis of the evidence alone.


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Public mobilization and vigilance are essential, if effective measures are to be enacted into law and enforced. Until quite recently, advocates of the common interest have had difficulty mustering the needed public relations expertise and support to overcome the influence of vested interests. Fortunately, in the past two decades, many lessons have been learned, especially by environmentalists, on how to convert a growing public concern for the state of Earth into effective support for specific measures to address concrete problems.

Yet, in most countries, while environmental issues are now receiving greater support, measures aimed at promoting population policies, social development, poverty reduction and other necessary measures for achieving sustainable patterns of development continue to be largely ignored by the general public. Ultimately, though, there can be no solution to environmental problems unless the social and economic ills besetting humankind are seriously addressed. It is this broader message and reality which remains to be effectively communicated to and internalized by the public.

Debate and defence of particular interests are, of course, inherent in the democratic process. Vested interests have to be overcome by democratic means: namely, by more effective mobilization of public opinion aimed at gaining support at all levels: international, national and local. The difficulties in achieving this goal should not, however, be under-estimated.

As can be seen in the discussions about implementation of the Convention on Climate Change, the opposition comes not only from particular industrial interests, but also from countries and groups of countries. While nobody favours pollution per se, many countries would nonetheless like to exempt themselves or others from bearing the cost of stringent controls.

A vigilant and informed world public represents a powerful counterweight to the vested interests that appear, at present, to have the upper hand on many issues. It is no accident that the countries that are militating most strongly for controls on emissions and other environmental measures are the same nations that have strong environmental lobbies and publics committed to action — locally, nationally and internationally — to preserve the environment.

The Night Before Critmas

One of the lessons of recent experience is the need to establish effective communication strategies as an integral part of any major scientific inquiry or programme. NAPAP, while it was highly regarded by scientists, had virtually no communication strategy. As a result, while its research and recommendations were well considered, there has been little follow-up action. IPCC has sought to avoid this failure by keeping both the scientific community and the general public systematically informed of its work and findings from the very start.

By informing the public, IPCC has made it much more difficult to simply sweep its conclusions under the carpet. The lesson here is that communication has to be seen as a long-term interactive process strategically aimed at particular groups and audiences, not as a concluding message when a project or panel is about to present its final report and wind up its activities. It is not necessary — or even desirable — for scientists to become propagandists, but it is essential that studies conducted in the public interest have adequate means to communicate their findings to the public on whose behalf they were carried out.

The messages of sustainable development represent a challenge in and of themselves. Rather than being simple and unambiguous — thus easy to communicate — environmental and developmental issues tend to be complex.

This is so because of the inherent complexity of ecological and human systems. They defy simplistic explanations, solutions and predictions. Some scientists, for example, expect that the buildup of greenhouse gases that causes global warming may, initially, result in several decades of falling temperatures in particular regions of the world because of the affect of the melting of the polar ice caps in slowing or stopping the warm ocean currents.

This contention may or may not be correct.

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the human body field

Yet, the ambiguity of the situation makes it hard to explain to non-specialists. To the general public, hot and cold are opposites, even if to the climate scientists they are merely different manifestations of environmental stress. To urge people to beware of global warming, but to keep both their woollens and their beachwear handy, just in case, is in no way convincing. Such uncertainty suggests that global warming may be more speculative than scientific.

This, evidently, is not the case. The truth is that complex realities are difficult to communicate in simple messages. Yet, attempts to simplify what, by its very nature is not simple, may result in further confusion and misunderstandings and, ultimately, in lack of credibility. The same problems arise, although to a lesser degree, in dealing with major transformations such as population growth and urbanization.

For example, the projection that by the middle of the next century several cities in the developing world may have populations approaching, or even exceeding, 50 million may be accepted matter-of-factly without due reflection on what is involved in managing an urban centre on such a scale or what the quality of life might be for its inhabitants. Thus, while the statement may appear easily understandable, the problems and issues that it raises may go undetected or be seriously underestimated. The fact is that people have difficulty adjusting from the scale of things encountered in everyday life to the scales of magnitude — enormously large and infinitesimally small — needed to understand demographic or ecological phenomena.