Sustainable Development of Environment!
The term ‘sustainable development’ was first used in the Cocoyoc Declaration on Environment and Development in the early 1970s. Since then, it has become a buzzword for international organisations dedicated to achieving environmentally benign or beneficial development. The term has served to catalyse debate over the relationship between economic change and the natural resource base in which it is grounded.
Definitions vary, but the most widely adopted one is contained in Our Common Future the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: “Sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
This definition is far from adequate it begs the critical question of what constitutes an acceptable ‘need’ in the context of present global situation but it does encapsulate the essential point that we all have to learn to live within our planetary means. Various UN publications, in an effort to define strategy for sustainable living and development, refer to it as “improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of the supporting ecosystem”.
Some definitions of sustainable development are:
1. A strategy that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to achieve their own requirements.
2. Improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems.
3. Environmental care ‘married’ to development.
4. An environmental ‘handrail’ to guide development.
The concept of sustainability has a long historical background. In ancient Indian writings, ‘nature’ or environment has been considered as the controller of all human activities, including economic development. They have given the status of God to all the components of environment, such as air, water, land, natural vegetation, animals, etc.
In spite of the fact that there was no need for their conservation, the concept of their protection has been put forward in all the religions of India. In Greek writings, there is a reference of ‘Ge’ or ‘Caia’ as the Goddess of the Earth—the mother figure of natural replenishment. In fact, that was a time when population was limited and there was mutual adjustment between man and environment.
It was only after the industrial revolution, followed by transport revolution and urbanisation, that degradation of the environment started and which has given rise to the concept sustainable development.
The sudden interest in sustainable development is, of course, a response to warnings that the world is facing an environmental and, therefore, social catastrophe in the near future unless mankind radically modifies certain practices and perspectives which have created the present crisis.
This crisis is characterised, among other things, by the poisoning of our rivers, seas and underground water sources; the thinning of the ozone layer; global warming; the rapid extinction of species, massive deforestation and soil improvement; rapid population growth; and uncontrolled urbanisation, with its attendant social problems.
The former US President Roosevelt’s chief forester and mentor, Gifford Pinchot (1910) had observed that “conservation advocates the use of foresight, prudence, thrift and intelligence in dealing with public matters, demands the application of common sense to the common problems for common good”. Conservation of resources, in other words, is the ‘sustainable utilisation’ of the resources, which can be achieved through environmental regulation, management, adequate surveillance and accountability.
The environmental degradation and associated problems, like desertification, soil erosion, tropical forest depletion, etc., in the Third World, are the consequences of present development policies. Therefore, there is need for positive mutual adjustment between development and natural environment.
Several strategies, policies and concepts have been propounded by ecologists and planners to deal with environment/natural resources management, such as the zero growth strategy of Daly (1977), organic agriculture for self-sustaining societies of Naess (1977), a narrow and over specialised approach of environmental economics by Norgaard (1985) and the well-known concept, i.e., use of environment-friendly techniques and products.
The publication of US Global 2000 Report (1980) and other publications like Resourceful Earth (Simon and Kohn, 1984), The Global Possible (Repetto, 1985) and Our Common Future (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987) have generated a debate highlighting the consequences of overexploitation of natural resources and neglect of global ‘common interest’. The various programmes of the UNO, specially the programmes of UNEP, have emphasised the need for sustainable development, also referred to as ‘eco-development’.
Despite its simplicity, the phrase ‘sustainable development’ is capable of carrying a wide range of meanings, sometimes allowing quite different ideas about what should be done to exist side by side without the conflict between them being clear. Both radical environmentalists and conventional development policy pragmatists have seized the phrase and used it to express and explain their ideas about development and environment.
In the process they have created a theoretical maze of great complexity (LeLe, 1991; Redclift, 1996; Redclift and Benton, 1994; Adams, 2001). The superficial conformity of writing and thinking about sustainable development hides very real and fierce battles behind the scenes over the meaning.