Orr Four Challenges of Sustainability

Orr Four Challenges of Sustainability - Conservation in...

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1457 Conservation Biology, Pages 1457–1460 Volume 16, No. 6, December 2002 Conservation in Context Four Challenges of Sustainability The destiny of the human spe- cies is to choose a truly great but brief, not a long and dull career. Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen (1971) The concept of sustainability first came to public notice in Wes Jack- son’s work on agriculture in the late 1970s, in Lester Brown’s Building a Sustainable Society (1980), and in The World Conservation Strategy (Allen 1980). The Brundtland Com- mission (1987) made it a central fea- ture of its 1987 report, defining it as meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. Their definition confused sustainable growth, an oxymoron, and sustainable development, a pos- sibility. Ambiguities notwithstanding, the concept of sustainability has be- come the keystone of the global dia- logue about the human future. But what exactly do we intend to sustain and what will that require of us? Such questions would have had lit- tle meaning to generations prior to, say, 1950, when nuclear annihilation became possible. Other than a colli- sion between Earth and a large me- teor there was no conceivable way that civilization everywhere could have been radically degraded or ter- minated. But now any well-informed high school student could make a long list of ways in which human- kind could cause its own demise. The dialogue about sustainability is about a change in the human trajec- tory that will require us to rethink old assumptions and engage the large questions of the human condi- tion that some presume to have been answered once and for all. The things that cannot be sus- tained are clear. The ongoing milita- rization of the planet along with the greed and hatred that feeds it are not sustainable. Sooner or later a roll of the dice will come up Armaged- don—whether on the Indian sub- continent or in the Middle East—by an accidental missile launch or by an act of a rogue state or terrorists. A world with a large number of des- perately poor people cannot be sus- tained because they have power to disrupt the lives of the comfortable in ways that we are only beginning to appreciate; such a world is not worth sustaining anyway. The per- petual enlargement of the human es- tate cannot be sustained because it will eventually overwhelm the ca- pacity and fecundity of natural sys- tems and cycles. The unrestrained development of any and all technol- ogy cannot be sustained without courting risks and adversity that we often see only in hindsight. A world of ever-increasing economic, finan- cial, and technological complexity cannot be sustained because sooner or later it will overwhelm our capac- ity to manage it. A world divided by narrow, exclusive, and intense alle- giances to ideology or ethnicity can- not be sustained because its people will have too little humor, compas- sion, forgiveness, and wisdom to save themselves. Unrestrained auto-
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Orr Four Challenges of Sustainability - Conservation in...

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