Economic Growth, Protecting & Preserving Our Ecological Systems – Are These Conflicted, or Complementary as We Strive for Greater Global Sustainability?
September 17, 2018 /3BL Media/ - The continued drive toward greater societal sustainability is very encouraging. The public sector, multilateral organizations, companies, investors, NGOs, and other stakeholders are adopting new strategies and embracing new approaches and best practices. Picture the installation of the vast array of a desert solar generating “farm” – that’s progress to cheer.
But there are substantial societal challenges that will require much more effort than we see today if we are to achieve greater, widespread sustainability -- worldwide.
Growth is good/growth is an issue. We are on track, demographers tell us, to see the global population grow from today’s 7.6 billion to 9.6 billion by the year 2050. We recall a description that describes the challenge of meeting this particular situation: It is like changing tires on an automobile that is moving.
The imagery of that is tantalizing to consider. This could apply to the challenges of developing solutions to vexing social, environmental and governance issues of 2018 as we steadily move towards 2050. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs) are an excellent roadmap for us to (1) look at the vexing societal issues and (2) collaborate and innovate to develop solutions, even as economic, population, demographic, political, financial, and other issues throw up still more challenges to meet as we strive to meet today’s challenges. Reality: We have to continue “growing”, right?
The 17 SDGs include such laudable and aspirational goals as ending poverty (#1), proving education (#4), providing clean water and sanitation (#6), and achieving “zero” hunger (#2).
Governments, industry, investors, civic leadership, NGOs, and other stakeholders are busily trying to figure out the “how” of addressing the challenges. (And, how to pay for the work to be done.) This week the UN Secretary General spoke about the lack of progress in general since the goals were structured in 2015. Only 12 years are left until the 2030 deadline for having solutions in place, observers noted.
So the question: Can sustainable development logically co-exist with current economic growth? The Phys.Org organization provides an interesting (brief) exploration of the topic in a feature article in September. There’s an elephant in the room, say the authors, and that is the “trilemma of population growth, economic growth, and environmental sustainability” – which (they say) reveals the vast incompatibility of current models of economic development with environmental sustainability.
These are some of the findings of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences (USA); the lead author is Professor Graeme Cumming of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.
An example of the research results: High-income countries often rely more on non-extractive industries, such as manufacturing and services, but consume more per capital and import more raw materials. In low-income countries, populations depend more on the extractive industries (agriculture, mining, logging), but have lower per capita consumption rates and higher population growth (and will have more mouths to feed).
The world is divided into two distinct groups of national economies, the authors posit in the Proceedings, roughly equated to developed and less developed nations…and both are pushed toward two different equilibrium points that are unsustainable under population growth. (They studied data and models that are described in the Journal report.)
The solution that we can all agree on: We need to find ways to make economic development and good standards of living compatible with ecological sustainability. We can use this knowledge to steer economic growth towards win-win outcomes for people and the environment (so say the authors).
This is just the introduction of G&A's Sustainability Highlights newsletter this week. Click here to view full issue.