Monday, April 27, 2009

Sustainable Development

Sustainable development is a word we hear often now. We hear it in the news, political speeches promising better policies and in the everyday conversation about the fate of our environment and livelihoods. Despite our exposure to the term, most of us have a hard time defining it.

Sustainable development is about the actions we take today and how they affect our world in the future. Seems simple, but it’s not easy to understand how this translates into our day-to-day lives. It takes energy, knowledge and practice to live while thinking about the impact of our actions on the environment. Difficult but essential, and worth everything if humanity wants to reduce pollution, promote conservation and to use natural resources responsibly on a daily basis. Only then will there be hope for a bright future.

Complications in making sustainable development a reality arise because environmental, social and economic phenomena are not mutually exclusive. Changes in environmental policies may affect economic progress. For example, rural farmers might suffer economically if they can’t clear forestland for crops to make a living. On the other hand, if we don’t protect forests, the environment may become too inhospitable for farmers to grow crops at all. An important objective is to find a balance between economic, environmental and social approaches to development.

A multi-sector approach is needed for solutions to complicated problems like these. The main actors in society bring different skills to the table. The public sector creates policies and laws that limit harmful practices while the private sector creates markets for resources important to local communities and funds non-profits dedicated to the social good. Ultimately, progress is up to individuals and communities because they know the needs of the land and their people. The community is what brings together multi-sector partnerships that take up challenges such as climate change and resource management. Sustainable development is a global effort in every sense of the word.

These are some big ideas that are not east to digest in one sitting. To illustrate the importance of sustainable development in our lives today I’ll get more specific with an example.

Indonesia is a country rich in resources that need protection and conservation. The Archaepelago covers 1.3% of the earth’s land with 17% of the earth’s plant and animal species. Indonesia is also where 451 million tonnes of CO2 emissions are emitted per year from energy, agriculture and waste. Wild fire and peat bogs also contribute to the emissions.

In 1997, as a result in weather changes from “el Nino”, the forests were uncharacteristically dry. Fires intentionally started to clear the land for farming got out of control and caused a huge spike in atmospheric CO2. This was subsequently called the South East Asian Haze.

Since the South East Asian Haze, multiple partnerships have developed to prevent further environmental degradation and crises. Of note is the work of the Nature Conservancy in collaboration with nine international and Indonesian organizations. The Conservation training and Resource Center was the result of this collaboration. The main goals of the center are to develop a conservation curriculum and to train natural resource managers. In essence, it’s sustainable development from a grassroots approach.

The USAID Mission in Indonesia for development resource management is part of various partnerships. They work with the Indonesian government, NGOs and international organizations to increase orangutan conservation, prevent logging and improve water and environment programs.

For more information on conservation and sustainable development in Indonesia there are two films I’d suggest watching. The first I haven’t seen yet. It’s called The Burning Season It’s about the fires in Indonesian forests and an entrepreneur that sets out to see how he can help. It’s showing at the Tribeca Film Festival until Tuesday 4/28. My coworker sent the other one to me. It’s about orangutan conservation in Indonesia. It’s 48 minutes long. Click “streaming”.

P.S. - I recommend looking at The Greenbelt Movement website, an organization based in Kenya.

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