|Sustainability: Matching action with lip service|
|Written by Kathleen Wood|
|Thursday, 17 March 2011 10:31|
The word sustainable, in an ecological and developmental context, is one of the most misused in modern dialogue.
According to the World Commission on Environment and Development established by the United Nations in 1987, sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Given that definition, contemporary Western civilization has strayed far from the path of sustainability. In fact, a case for the opposite scenario can easily be made. Most human activities are seriously undermining the abilities of future generations to thrive, let alone survive on Planet Earth.
The terms “sustainable development” are perpetually evoked in the Turks and Caicos Islands as civil servants, developers and politicians give lip service to the concept. The recent “National Conversation” has highlighted the subject, but to date, not a single development in the entire country qualifies for the label.
For every development, we compromise. We clear a piece of land here, burn a few tons of fossil fuel there, with each compromise telling ourselves that it’s just this little bit for the sake of economic development. But over time, the little bits add up to big bits, and pretty soon the TCI doesn’t have a pristine environment to sell anymore.
All the hotels on the beachfront will be worthless without coral reefs for visitors to dive on, fish, lobster and conch in the sea for our fishermen to earn a living from and a once beautiful and wild landscape scarred forever for the sake of development.
As a small island nation, the TCI is particularly vulnerable. Significant sea level rises caused by global warming could threaten the vary existence of the nation. Land and other resources are limited and finite.
From an economic standpoint, the TCI is almost entirely dependent upon outside injections of wealth in the form of investment and tourism. Almost all food, consumer goods and energy resources are currently imported from abroad.
Illegal immigration and crime are out of control, and outside influences are exploiting the natural environment and the TCI economy for personal greed. The status quo is not sustainable by any measure.
Sustainability is based on and confined by the laws of nature. In nature, every organism gives according to its ability and receives according to its need. There is no mechanism for greed in natural systems. In fact, in nature when an organism or individual consumes and sequesters a disproportionate amount of resources for themselves, nature’s reaction is usually swift and brutal.
The human organism thinks it has fooled Mother Nature, but by devising technologies to increase food production and by expanding into virgin territory when the resources in one area are used up, humanity has only bought time. And every advancement we incorporate to stretch the laws of nature further only ensure that when the natural correction occurs, it will be all the more catastrophic.
What would a sustainable TCI look like? On Feb. 19, Salt Cay Devco held a public forum to discuss its vision for a sustainable future on Salt Cay. The proposed development plan includes generation of energy from renewable resources, composting and recycling of solid and municipal wastes, native-only landscaping and low-density, low-impact buildings. If the development takes place as proposed, it will not be perfect, but it will be the only development in the TCI to date that even comes close to “sustainable.”
For much of TCI history, a sustainable economy existed. Individuals fished, traded and farmed to maintain daily subsistence. When people live close to the land, they take what they need to survive and leave the rest for nature. Taking too much one day leaves little for the future.
As people moved farther and farther away from the land, they lost this sense of cause and effect. Now a few greedy individuals have taken more than their fair share. As resources are depleted, accumulation and hoarding becomes a vicious cycle of environmental degradation. People get greedy because they are afraid of the very scarcity created by greed.
A real sustainable TCI would be one in which every resident is provided by the economy with the basic needs of life including a good job, decent education, clean drinking water, health care, food, and safe and clean shelter. The natural systems that form the backbone of natural production and human industry will be preserved and protected against further degradation.
We do not have to make compromises. We can develop economically while simultaneously maintaining the ecological baseline. Sustainable development is not inconsistent with profit or economic growth, but it is incompatible with greed.
We cannot have an economy based on greed and a healthy ecosystem. The two are mutually exclusive.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 17 March 2011 12:08|
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Links to environmental documents and laws