Even though the number of sustainability initiatives keeps increasing increasingly, it is difficult to overcome resistance to change. Emerging evidence that the transition from an exploding world to a sustainable world will require significant cultural adaptation reinforces even more the natural human tendency to avoid facing the music. Thus there is a need for a "quick reference guide" to key web sites and online data sources in order to enable researchers and advocates to navigate the web and find the chunks of knowledge they need for their own work and to share with others.
To be useful, such a "quick reference guide" must be multi-disciplinary, up to date, and generally free of broken links. The directory of links proposed below is a carefully filtered selection of key references and data sources for sustainable development, with emphasis on the human side of the issues. Granted that technological advances are indispensable to support the transition to sustainability, they may not be sufficient. The "consumerist" mode of human behavior may have to change. Mitigation of population and consumption growth can buy time, but cultural adaptations may be required.
People are generally more willing to change behavior by the expectation of gain than by the expectation of loss. The propensity to resist behavioral change increases when the risk of attaining gains is high and/or the risk of suffering loses is low. Therefore, the most useful evidence to foster sustainable behavior is that which shows that there is much to gained with low risk. In this context, the selection of items for this directory favors those that provide evidence of what is to be gained. The directory is being annotated as time permits and includes links to relevant research and data resources under the following categories:
It is hoped that this directory will be useful -- at least as a "first stop" -- for the subscribers as well as students, researchers, and the general public. The directory is an ordered list (9 sections, 45 subsections) of links to content-rich web sites. Each subsection includes a list of links to selected references and data sources, links to relevant Wikipedia articles, and a brief commentary. Readers who want to suggest links to relevant content, please contact the Editor.
Commentary -- Human evolution is not expected to go beyond Homo sapiens sapiens in the foreseeable future. However, Homo sapiens sapiens can and must outgrow the Homo economicus phase and become Homo solidarius. In the terminology of the Christian tradition, it is hard to imagine Homo sapiens sapiens becoming Homo eucharisticus any time soon, but the transition from competition to solidarity is feasible and must be attained. Else, according to the evidence to be listed below, the future of humanity is grim.
Note: See the "conscious evolution" hypothesis by Barbara Marx Hubbard. Conscious evolution refers to the claim that humanity has now acquired the ability to choose what the species Homo Sapiens becomes in the future, based on recent advancements in science, medicine, technology, psychology, sociology, and spirituality. Conscious evolution assumes that human beings may be positioned at the crest of the ongoing evolution of the universe. Can Homo economicus become Homo solidarius in response to the ecological crisis?
1.2 Population Growth and Human Sexuality
"So a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one body." Genesis 2:24
Commentary -- The exponential pattern of population growth experienced during the 1900s appears to be slowing down a bit, albeit not uniformly in all regions of the world. Significantly, the rich and better educated people are having fewer children but the poor and mostly uneducated people still seek security in numbers. Moralistic pontifications notwithstanding, experience confirms that "the bed is the consolation of the poor" and will continue to be so until distributive justice and/or mother nature close the rich/poor gap (48% of the world population live with less that 2 dollars/day).
1.3 The "Limits to Growth" Project (Donella & Dennis Meadows)
"There is something fundamentally wrong with treating the earth as if it were a business in liquidation." Herman Daly
Commentary -- The bottom line is that unlimited growth (demographic and/or economic) in a finite world is a mathematical impossibility. However, only material growth has been considered in the "Limits to Growth" project. Thankfully, there are no limits to wisdom and the inner life. But it is hard to imagine people seeking to undertake the "inner journey" when they are either drowning in extravagant consumption or barely surviving in extreme poverty.
1.4 Sustainability and Integral Human Development
"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". Brundtland Report, WCED-OCF, UN, 1987
Commentary -- There is no such thing as sustainable development in isolation from human development. A better terminology is "sustainable human development." The following is excerpted from the announcement of the HDR2010, scheduled to be released 4 November 2010:
"The 2010 Report continues the tradition of pushing the frontiers of development thinking. For the first time since 1990, the Report looks back rigorously at the past several decades and identifies often surprising trends and patterns with important lessons for the future. These varied pathways to human development show that there is no single formula for sustainable progress—and that impressive long-term gains can and have been achieved even without consistent economic growth.
"Looking beyond 2010, this Report surveys critical aspects of human development, from political freedoms and empowerment to sustainability and human security, and outlines a broader agenda for research and policies to respond to these challenges. As Amartya Sen writes: "Twenty years after the appearance of the first Human Development Report, there is much to celebrate in what has been achieved. But we also have to be alive to ways of improving the assessment of old adversities and of recognizing—and responding to—new threats that endanger human well-being and freedom."
The following video shows the basic concept of HDI (Human Development Index), by using four different examples (Japan, Mexico, India and Angola).
Commentary -- Most incidents of violence can be traced back to money and/or religion. Secular violence is most often triggered by financial stress. Religious violence is usually triggered by fundamentalist (fanatical) deformations of religion. In both the secular and religious spheres, the victims are usually scapegoats. There is a saying, "if you want peace, work for justice." Scapegoating is the most common mechanism to rationalize injustice and violence. It generally entails targeting the weakest member(s) of a community to atone for the guilt of crooks who control wealth, power, and honors.
2.2 The Patriarchal Culture and the Addictions to Money, Power, and Honors
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal." Matthew 6:18-20
Money can be counted, and there is no shortage of numerical data about money and economic wealth. Not so with regard to issues of power, control, domination, and various kinds of honors. For these we must rely on the "data of history," which is mostly in narrative form. But these "data of history" are crucial for sustainable development, and therefore a few examples are included below as "data."
Commentary -- As Lord Acton once wrote, "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." The ubiquity of such corruption is evident in both secular and religious institutions. According to St. Ignatius Loyola, "money leads to seeking power, power leads to seeking honors and, from these, all forms of human corruption are derived." Indeed, money is the root cause of most cases of corruption in human affairs. When something smells fishy, follow the money trail. There is a saying, "money talks." This is true even when money has been "cooked" or "invented" (as with the so-called "derivatives" that precipitated the current financial crisis). But, thankfully, money can be traced and can be counted! Thus the importance of counting and handling money in ways that support sustainable development, while always trying to keep in check practices that actually feed corruption and thus become obstacles to human and social development.
2.3 Consumerism and the Sustainable Development Paradox
"Our enormously productive economy… demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption… We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing rate." Victor Lebow, 1955
Commentary -- The "ecocosm paradox" (or "sustainable development paradox") is difficult to quantify empirically but not difficult to understand logically. As in the "Limits to Growth" analysis (section 1.3 of this directory), unlimited growth in producing and consuming material goods is unfeasible because the human habitat is not unlimited. The "Ecological Footprint (EFP)" is a good method to understand the concept numerically. Another numerical method worthy of consideration is the "Genuine Progress Index (GPI)." Fey and Lam (1999) provide an excellent visualization of the sustainable development paradox. The concept is also amenable to computer simulation. See some examples in section 9.2 of this directory.
2.4 The Phallic Syndrome and Gender Equality
Note: The term "phallic syndrome" refers to a disordered preference for the masculine. In Spanish, "machismo."
"Sacram ordinationem valide recipit solus vir baptizatus."
"Only a baptized male validly receives sacred ordination." Canon 1024,
Code of Canon Law,
Roman Catholic Church
"In most religions and founding myths, including traditional beliefs of many ethnic groups in Africa, Oceania, Asia and America, religious or priestly functions are a male preserve.... No religion is spared in this regard, including monotheistic religions."
Commentary -- Gender equality is a sign of the times. The "phallic syndrome" (a disordered preference for the masculine) still prevails in most cultures and human institutions, both secular and religious. In the social sphere, the first and second waves of feminism have run their course, and hopefully the third wave is not far away. Some progress has been made in the secular sphere, albeit not uniformly throughout the world. In the religious sphere, it is lamentable that most religious traditions persist in an inordinate attachment to either radical or condescending misogyny. For a carefully documented case, see The Papal No by Deborah Halter, Crossroad, 2004. The publication of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (Vatican, 1994) reiterating the theologically baseless refusal to ordain women was a sad example of condescending but vitriolic misogyny, complete with smoke screens of "papal infallibility" and a subsequent ban on further discussion of the issue. To add insult to injury, they use the Lord Jesus Christ as scapegoat. The damage done to human development is incalculable. Several issues of this journal have included material on this religious malignancy. From the perspective of sustainable development, clericalism is as harmful as consumerism. The psychological harm done to both men and women (and especially to children!) by excluding women from roles of religious authority should not be underestimated. Thank God, may initiatives are emerging to promote gender equality.
2.5 The UN "Millennium Development Goals" & "Sustainable Development Goals"
"The diligent farmer plants trees, of which he himself will never see the fruit." Cicero
Commentary -- In light of MDG7, MDG8 should be understood as "Global Partnership for Sustainable Development." As the recent meeting at Copenhagen confirmed once more, such partnership has yet to materialize. After 191 nations agreed on these goals in 2000, little progress has been made on MDGs 1 to 7 even though billions have been spent. At this time, it is hard to see how any of the global targets set for 2015 could be achieved. Spending more billions would be an exercise in futility; more financial aid is not the solution. Some financial support is necessary, but not sufficient. MDG7 and MDG8 must go together -- building on MDG3. A radical triad of cultural shifts is required: from exclusion to inclusion, from domination to solidarity, from consumerism to sustainability. This is the only path toward resolving the "sustainable development paradox."
Quotation -- "The current financial crisis, which began in the United States, then spread to Europe, has now become global. The crisis itself stems, mainly, from poorly regulated financial markets in rich countries, which allowed risky and complex financial products to develop, skewing financial flows and creating unsustainable global imbalances. With world trade plummeting and industrial production falling drastically, the economic crisis has affected developing countries through declining trade, private financial flows and remittances." Financial Systems, World Connectors, 2009.
Commentary -- There are many versions of how the current financial and economic crisis came about. There is a lot of finger pointing going around. But "what goes around comes around" and it would be wise to stop pointing fingers and start seeking the etiology of the disease. Forget about derivatives and other financial manipulations. The root cause of the crisis is human greed, manifested as an insatiable appetite for money and wealth accumulation. This inevitably translates into power struggles, corruption in governance, and lack of political will to put in place effective checks and balances in the financial sector. And isn't it amazing how much money can be manufactured -- and given away -- to preserve the status quo? But manufacturing more money is an exercise in futility; with few exceptions, the trillions will never trickle down to the working class, let alone the poor.
Commentary -- The global financial crisis may actually widen the rich-poor gap even more. Survival may drive people living in misery to abuse the human habitat in the future even more than in the past. Mother nature is mercifully resilient, but eventually there may emerge increasingly increasing cases of "Gaia's revenge." Poor people are bound to suffer the most, but eventually even rich people might be affected financially and, if this happens, the developed nations and the multi-national corporations might be tempted to use the developing nations as scapegoats. Those who are now forcing people in N.E. Brazil to destroy the Amazon rain forest, and people in sub-Saharan Africa to cut trees and sell the wood in order to survive, will then ask -- who told them to destroy their own resources? And when resources stop flowing from the poor to the rich, the developed economies might have to resort to using more coal and generating more pollution in order to "survive," thus triggering more garbage to flow from the rich to the poor who, lacking sanitation, will become both sicker and poorer -- and the rich-poor gap will widen even more. Not a very attractive scenario, is it?
3.3 Capitalism, Socialism, and the Need for a New Synthesis
"They were so strong in their beliefs that there came a time when it hardly mattered what exactly those beliefs were; they all fused into a single stubbornness." Louise Erdrich
Commentary -- Communism is dead. Liberal capitalism is dead. Socialism is moribund. Democracy is alive and well, but democratic systems need improvement if visibly forthcoming challenges (such as the "sustainable development paradox") are to be handled fairly. There is a need for a new democratic synthesis adaptable to all levels of governance (local, national, global) but none of the possibilities listed above seems to be converging in the foreseeable future. It may take a long evolution for a new synthesis to emerge that is improves socioeconomic justice and is politically feasible. During this evolutionary process, we all need to keep "muddling through" together, one step at a time but also acting locally, thinking globally, and thinking long-term. The mud is what keeps us together at the moment. Let us be thankful for the mud, and forge ahead together.
Humanity Can and Must Do More with Less - UNEP (12 May 2011)
Definition: Decoupling is about shifting from debt-financed consumption (which is unsustainable) as the primary economic driver of our economies, to sustainability- oriented investments in innovation as the primary economic driver.
3.4 Reformation of Dictatorial Systems (Secular and Religious)
"Absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power." Eric Hoffer
Note: This is a difficult section. There is a lot of data on both secular and religious dictatorial systems. But it is very confusing because, while in some countries there is separation of church and state (thus a secular democracy must coexist with a dictatorial religious hierarchy, e.g., Italy) in other countries secular and religious governance are conflated, with secular authorities subservient to religious authorities (e.g., Islamic theocracies such as Iran). From a sustainable development perspective, the most useful data are in the form of maps that show democratic versus dictatorial governments by country, dominant religion by country, and other factors such as the geography of poverty and literacy. Juxtaposition of these maps exposes a high correlation between dictatorial governance (secular and/or religious) and the prevalence of factors such as poverty, illiteracy and, of course, gender inequality. Granted that correlation should not be confused with causation, the correlations are overwhelming.
Commentary -- The number dictatorships has decreased in recent decades, but some remain (e.g., Burma). Dictatorial systems are discredited forever. But forever is a long time and people have a tendency to forget the lessons of history, so continued vigilance is in order. A few religious dictatorships (usually disguised as theocracies or absolute monarchies by divine will) remain a significant obstacle to sustainable development, and they do have enormous influence over the faithful. Among other things, they persist in imposing the "phallic syndrome" as God's will for humankind. There is no solution in sight for this calamity, but let us keep praying and working while avoiding false hopes about anything happening quickly. God is patient and merciful, and acts like a "gentle breeze" (1 Kings 19). Let us pray especially for those who presume to have cable internet connection to heaven. Ignoring their pontifications when they are irrational or self-serving, and withdrawing financial contributions, is the best antidote to their delusions of communion with the divine. Concurrently, let us support and encourage those religious institutions that practice inclusiveness and have participatory forms of governance with check and balances proper to their religious traditions (for Christians, an excellent model is found in Acts 15).
3.5 Reformation of Democratic Systems (Some Possibilities)
"Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Lord Acton
Dictatorship (of any kind) is not an option. This section is about the principles and practices that appear to be most promising for the improvement or reformation of democratic systems.
Commentary -- Once a mindset of solidarity and sustainability solidifies, subsidiarity becomes the name of the game. The principle of subsidiarity basically states that decisions should be taken at the lowest possible level consistent with the common good of the entire human community. In other words, either too much centralization, or too much decentralization, is bad. In terms of local, national, and global governance, applying the principle of subsidiarity would require putting in place checks and balances among local governments, between local governments and national governments, among national governments, and between national governments and some form of global government. The constitution of the European Union explicitly includes an article of adherence to the principle of subsidiarity. The American constitution, while not including the term "subsidiarity" explicitly, conforms to it by prescribing separation of powers, and checks and balances, between country governments, state governments, and the federal government. But the trick is to translate the theory into practice, i.e., effective checks and balances must be implemented at each level and between levels. It is just a matter of keeping everybody honest. Easier said than done? Indeed, but no democracy is as yet perfect, and none is exonerated from the process of continuing improvement. The following is a list of proposals worth considering:
Source: EDEOS - Digital Education. Summary: "The world is becoming more and more interconnected. Globalization changes how people consume, work and live almost everywhere on the world. Today, many economic, political, cultural or ecological relationships are not explainable from a national perspective. At the same time, a controversial debate about the consequences of globalization has begun. But what are the main causes for globalization? In what areas it is most prominent? And who are the winners and looser of globalization? These are the questions this animated Video clip of the WissensWerte series deals with. WissensWerte is a project of the German non-profit organisation E-Politik. It is realized by Jörn Barkemeyer and Jan Künzl (EDEOS - Digital Education)."
Commentary -- "Economic growth is simply an increase in the production and consumption of goods and services. Economic growth has provided many benefits over time, but now it is causing more problems - dire problems - than it solves. Slowly but surely, economic growth has become a primary threat to the environment, national security, international stability, and future generations. Yet it remains the highest priority in the domestic policy arena of the United States and most other nations. Citizens, especially students, are continually told that there is no limit to growth, in defiance of ecological principles and basic physics. To refute the misleading rhetoric that there is no conflict between economic growth and environmental protection - as well as economic sustainability - CASSE provides information on the downsides of growth with an emphasis on ecological concepts." Brian Czech, 2009.
4.2 Biomass and Biodiversity
"2010: United Nations International Year of Biodiversity" UNEP-IYB
"A diverse ecosystem will also be resilient, because it contains many species with overlapping ecological functions that can partially replace one another. When a particular species is destroyed by a severe disturbance so that a link in the network is broken, a diverse community will be able to survive and reorganize itself... In other words, the more complex the network is, and the more complex its pattern of interconnections, the more resilient it will be". Fritjof Capra
Commentary -- The use of biomass as an energy source (biofuels) is still controversial, technically and economically. But there is a solid consensus that biodiversity is a crucial ecological resource required for ecosystem services and human welfare: "At least 40 per cent of the world’s economy and 80 per cent of the needs of the poor are derived from biological resources. In addition, the richer the diversity of life, the greater the opportunity for medical discoveries, economic development, and adaptive responses to such new challenges as climate change." (CBD 2002). Recommended: Consumer-Product Diversity now Exceeds Biodiversity, The Onion, 1998.
Commentary -- Ecosystem services provide many valuable benefits to people. These include:
Fuel (wood, dung, and other sources of bioenergy)
Biochemicals, natural medicines, and pharmaceuticals
Air quality regulation
Water purification and waste treatment
Natural hazard regulation
Spiritual and religious values
Inspiration and aesthetic values
Social relations and sense of place
Cultural heritage values
Recreation and ecotourism
4.4 Ecosystem Use, Abuse, and Potential Recovery
"The essential role of the environment is still marginal in discussions about poverty. While we continue to debate these initiatives, environmental degradation, including the loss of biodiversity and topsoil, accelerates, causing development efforts to falter." Wangari Maathai
Commentary -- The resilience of ecological systems to external disturbance is amazing. The paper by Jones and Schmitz listed above reports on the results for 233 strongly disturbed ecosystems. They found that 132 of the 233 ecosystems had recovered, 33 of the 233 had not recovered but were in the trajectory to recovery, and 68 of the 233 had not recovered and would be unable to recover. In other words, 57% of the ecosystems had recovered, 14% had not recovered but were bouncing back, and 29% had been perturbed beyond recovery. The range of recovery times was wide -- from decades to half-centuries, depending on the kind of ecosystem and the nature/duration of the perturbation. Recovery was not necessarily to the same levels of biomass and biodiversity that had before the perturbation. And, of course, most of the recoveries were supported by human-driven restoration practices. But still, over 50% of the ecosystems were able to recover and over 70% had not suffered irreparable damage. Mother nature is mercifully resilient. But 29% of the ecosystems were lost, so ecosystem resilience should not be used to justify abusive practices. Ecosystem services are indispensable for the well-being of humanity. If we keep abusing nature, it is at our own peril. "All flesh is grass."
4.5 The Great Biomes of Planet Earth
"Uniformity is not nature's way; diversity is nature's way." Vandana Shiva
Yann Arthus-Bertrand was appointed by the United Nations to produce the official film for the International Year of Forests.
Following the success of Home which was seen by 400 million people, the photographer began producing a short 7-minute film on forests made up of aerial images from Home and the Vu du Ciel television programmes. This film was shown during a plenary session of the Ninth Session of United Nations Forum on Forests (24 January - 4 February 2011) in New York. It is now available to the general public.
Commentary -- "Fossil fuels remain the dominant sources of energy worldwide, accounting for 77% of the demand increase in 2007-2030. Although oil demand is expected to drop by 2.2% in 2009 as a whole, following a drop of 0.2% in 2008, it is projected to recover from 2010 as the world economy pulls out of recession, rising from around 85 million barrels per day in 2008 to 105 mb/d in 2030, an increase of around 24%. In 2007-2030, demand for coal grows by 53% and demand for natural gas by 42%."
IEA WEO 2009
5.2 "Peak Oil" (Hubbert's Curve)
"Our ignorance is not so vast as our failure to use what we know." M. K. Hubbert, 1957
Commentary -- It will be interesting to see the interplay between supply and demand of oil during the next two decades, and the production costs increase on the down side of the curve.
5.4 Ecological Footprint and Carbon Footprint
"The Ecological Footprint (EF) is a resource accounting tool that measures the amount of biologically productive land and water area an individual, a city, a country, a region, or all of humanity uses to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its waste using prevailing technology."GFN
Commentary -- The EF and CF metrics are becoming standard to measure human impact on natural resources at all levels: personal, local, national, global. According to the Global Footprint Network (GFN), humanity's EF surpassed the world's biocapacity in the late 1980s, and keeps growing. If any readers know about some other measure(s), or want to propose an alternative measure, please contact the Editor.
5.5 Transition from Nonrenewable to Renewable (and Clean) Energy Sources
"If we don't change our course, we'll end up where we're headed". Chinese proverb
Commentary -- The transition from nonrenewable to renewable (and clean) energy sources is not the complete solution to all impending global issues, but it is part of the solution. For more on this slice of the transition, the article A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030, by Mark Jacobson & Mark Delucchui, Scientific American, November 2009, is highly recommended.
6. Pollution, Climate Change, and Environmental Management
6.1 Air Pollution, Water Pollution, and Solid Waste
"We find ourselves ethically destitute just when, for the first time, we are faced with ultimacy, the irreversible closing down of the earth's functioning in its major life systems. Our ethical traditions know how to deal with suicide, homicide and even genocide, but these traditions collapse entirely when confronted with biocide, the killing of the life systems of the earth, and geocide, the devastation of the earth itself." Thomas Berry
Commentary -- Resources flow from the poor to the rich. Why? Follow the money trail (or lack thereof). The term "institutional quality" is tricky. The decisive factor is not the "poor quality" of government and other institutions in developing countries. Poverty breeds poverty, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The decisive factor is the accounting practice of treating environmental and social costs as "externalities" that need not be paid by multinational corporations and their customers.
6.3 "Pollution Flows from the Rich to the Poor" (Vandana Shiva)
"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality." Desmond Tutu
Commentary -- Garbage flow from the rich to the poor. Why? For the same reason stated at the end of the preceding section. Latest case example: COP-15 at Copenhagen, December 2009. Another case example is the Clean Development Mechanism, a Kyoto compromise that allows "industrialized countries with a greenhouse gas reduction commitment to invest in ventures that reduce emissions in developing countries as an alternative to more expensive emission reductions in their own countries." But this is about reducing costs, not about reducing pollution! Again, follow the money trail.
6.4 Environmental Management and the Kyoto-Copenhagen-Lima-Paris Process
"I am the one who made the earth and created people to live on it. With my hands I stretched out the heavens. All the stars are at my command." Isaiah 45:12
National Academies USA, 2 May 2017 - Record-breaking heat and heavy downpours are just two types of extreme weather that are on the rise as Earth has warmed. While climate change is never the sole factor in any particular extreme weather event, teasing out its role can help government officials and businesses assess changing risks and better plan for the future. Watch this short animated video from the National Academies that explains how the science of extreme weather event attribution is like baking cookies! Read the full report, Attribution of Extreme Weather Events in the Context of Climate Change.
7. Land, Agriculture, Food Supply, and Water Supply
7.1 Land Use and Arable Land
"The earth belongs to the living. No man may oblige the lands he owns or occupies or those that succeed him in that occupation to debts greater than those that may be paid during his own lifetime. Because if he could, the world would belong to the dead and not to the living." Thomas Jefferson
Commentary -- "The outstanding scientific discovery of the twentieth century is not television, or radio, [or computers!] but rather the complexity of the land organism. Only those who know the most about it can appreciate how little we know about it. The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering." Aldo Leopold (1887-1948)
7.2 Rural Development and Sustainable Urbanization
"It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly."
Commentary -- The ISO Standards Organization probably offers the most comprehensive set of best practices and quality standards. The ISO standards are disciplined and auditable, but also allow time for corrective action when deviations are found. As of 2009, 17,500+ ISO standards had been published, covering every conceivable human activity. These standards are developed by committees of experts from around the world. The standards require registration and have "shalls" which are auditable once or twice a year. ISO also publishes guideline documents, i.e., best practices which have "shoulds" that are not auditable. The best known standards are ISO-9001 for quality management (982,000+ certificates issued as December 2009) and ISO-14001 for environmental management (188,000+ certificates issued as of December 2009). There is an ISO-26000 in preparation on Corporate Social Responsibility. The ISO standards and best practices pertaining to agriculture should be carefully considered by agricultural developers. All the standards include training modules and human development practices for all members of the organization being certified. They prescribe nothing that should not be done for responsible corporate management. It is lamentable that so many corporations fail to pursue certification (or even have they certificates revoked) and prefer to cut corners in their desperate pursuit of cost minimization and profit maximization in the short-term. Camelot is no longer to be found in the executive suites of multinationals; it has relocated to sub-Saharan Africa.
7.4 Food Supply and Food Availability
"To give without any reward, or any notice, has a special quality of its own." Anne Lindbergh
Commentary -- Long food supply chains are expensive and generate pollution. Rural and urban development should be tightly coupled, so that cities can minimize the food they get from far away sources. Consumers who want to get "turrones" from Spain, "panetones" from Italy, and French wine should be willing to pay a fair "ecofood" tax. The dollar bill is the best rationing card ever devised. In order to level the field, the poor and the elderly should get food stamps for a reasonable allowance of those items. Governments should practice restraint in food services at all levels. There is nothing wrong with serving modest quantities of simple food to visiting dignitaries. In fact, it would be good for their health.
WORLD FOOD PRICES EXPECTED TO STAY HIGH OR KEEP RISING
Commentary -- It is estimated that more than 1.1 billion people lack access to safe water. This is 16% of the human population! It is also estimated that 2.6 billion lack access to basic sanitation. This is 38% of the human population! When the choice is between inadequate sanitation and dying of thirst, poor people (who are Homo sapiens sapiens) have the right priorities: drinking takes precedence over taking a bath. Too bad the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs, listed in section 2.5) keep getting lots of promises but little action. For years, the developed nations were reluctant to invest in these projects due to "budgetary constraints." But when the financial crisis erupted in October 2008, suddenly the developed nations found ways to inject trillions of dollars to bail out the international financial system and mitigate the impact on their own economies. Interesting, isn't it? It seems that Abigail Adams was right: "We have too many high-sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them."
8. Current Outlook for the Planet and Human Civilization
Note: This section provides links to graphical or narrative snapshots on some critical issues of the "state of the world" as of February 2011, and a brief compilation of the growing number of "state of the world" reports. These annual reports are the flagship publications of many organizations engaged in sustainable development at the global level, and they are generally contain credible information and data in narrative, tabular, or graphical format. However, they never mention a factor that is of critical importance: the influence (sometimes positive, sometimes negative) of religious traditions and institutions.
8.1 Outlook for the World's Population
"In addition to the life-death cycle basic to nature, there is also an unnatural living death: human life which is denied its fullness." Paulo Freire
Commentary -- Population growth is a minor part of the problem. The lack of education on responsible use of the gift of love and the gift of life is a much bigger problem. This bigger problem is further exacerbated by the growth in material consumption per capita and the culture of consumerism. The challenge is to foster cultural change pursuant to rejection of irresponsible sex and recognition that what really matters is to be more, not to have more.
The following is a decisive emerging trend in the secular sphere:
"Women are unquestionably the largest new international player on the world stage today, and are shaping local, national, and global change in a variety of innovative ways. In recent years, most notably, women have been morphing from the passive beneficiaries of international development efforts to the powerful leaders that help bring about such change. The implications for practitioners of development are clear: focused research and bold policies are needed to better explore the contours of this change, and to maximize the rich leadership potential offered by women in today’s world." From Beneficiaries to Change Agents: The Rise of Women’s Leadership in International Development, Kirrin Gill et al, SAIS Review, Summer-Fall 2009.
But some religious institutions remain attached to the patriarchal mentality ...
Commentary -- Phallocentric clericalism is an obstacle to sustainable development and, in particular, to integral human development. It has nefarious effects in both men and women who are trying to overcome the phallic syndrome. Men need women to develop integrally, and women need men. Else, it is very hard for men to get in touch with the feminine in them (anima) and for women to get in touch with the masculine in them (animus); and this is crucial for healthy growth in the inner life. This in turn cannot but have a harmful effect on all dimensions of social life. Check out the case examples listed in section 2.4. This cannot possibly be God's will, since God wants only what is good for humanity. And yet, for some reason, it is very hard for most religious patriarchs to recognize this and act accordingly. Let us pray for the churches that risk doing what is right even if this might induce internal turbulence.
8.3 Outlook for the World's Boys & Girls
"The soul is healed by being with children." Fyodor Dostoyevsky
2.5 billion people still lack access to improved sanitation facilities.
1 billion children are deprived of one or more services essential to survival and development.
150 million children 5–14 years old are engaged in child labor.
148 million under-fives in developing regions are underweight for their age.
101 million children are not attending primary school, with more girls than boys missing out.
37 million infants are not receiving iodized salt to protect them from iodine deficiency.
22 million infants are not protected from diseases by routine immunization.
19 million infants in developing countries are born with low birth weight.
8.8 million children worldwide died before their fifth birthday in 2008.
4 million newborns worldwide are dying in the first month of life.
4 million under-fives die each year from just three causes: diarrhea, malaria or pneumonia.
2 million children under 15 worldwide are living with HIV.
Source: State of the World's Children 2009, UNICEF, 2009.
Commentary -- Some primitive cultures practiced human sacrifice, including the sacrifice of children. But taking good care of children is now a moral imperative for civilized humans. In Swahili, the word "tunza" means "to treat children with care or affection." Most religious traditions reinforce this notion. There is a saying, "every time a baby is born is a confirmation that God still has confidence in humanity." Biblical quotation: "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matthew 19:14). Islamic quotation: "Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin" (Qur'an 17:31). UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959): "Children shall be protected from practices which may foster racial, religious, and any other form of discrimination. They shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal good will, and in full consciousness that their energy and talents should be devoted to the service of humanity." (Principle 10, slightly edited for gender inclusiveness)
8.4 Outlook for the World's Biosphere
"Sweet flowers are slow, weeds make haste." William Shakespeare, ca. 1600
"In the great chain of causes and effects, no thing and no activity should be regarded in isolation." Alexander von Humboldt, ca. 1807
The biosphere is "the zone where life is found; the outer portion of the geosphere and the inner portion of the atmosphere. This extends from 3 m below the ground to some 30 m above it. The biosphere also comprises that region of waters, some 200 m deep, where most marine and freshwater life is found." Source: Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 2010.
It is critically important to recognize that, while humanity is embedded in the biosphere, the biosphere in turn is embedded in the cosmic universe. The Journey of the Universe film and book project is a collaboration of evolutionary philosopher Brian Thomas Swimme and historian of religions Mary Evelyn Tucker. They weave a breathtaking tapestry that draws together scientific discoveries in astronomy, geology, and biology with humanistic insights concerning the nature of the universe.
8.5 General Outlook for the World's Future
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth .... God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." Genesis 1:1, 31
The following web sites provide all kinds of information and data for the entire world. Only the link to the home page is listed, but these home pages always include directories and/or search boxes that facilitate locating specific info/data.
Commentary -- There are basically two strategies going forward: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation of consumption and pollution trends can buy time and should be encouraged but, in the long term, a substantial degree of adaptation will be required in terms of the interaction between humanity and the human habitat. It is hard to imagine such adaptation coming to pass without prior adaptation in human relations. Nonviolence must prevail (physically and psychologically) between men and women; between races; between nations; between cultures; between religions. And yet, nonviolence is necessary but not sufficient. The mindset of consumerism and confrontation must give way to a new mindset of solidarity and sustainability.
Commentary -- Predicting the future behavior of complex systems such as humanity and the biosphere is risky business. The reasonable thing to do is to formulate alternative scenarios and analyze their range of behavior modes under certain conditions. This is both a "scientific art" and an "artistic science." There is room here for everyone -- from dummies to gurus -- to participate and contribute. Success in this endeavor is not a matter of predicting specific events or trends. Rather, success is to be anticipatory without being inflammatory. Success is to be ready to face the future, and help others become ready. It is ludicrous to expect that technological breakthroughs will get humanity off the hook. Just "trusting in mother nature" is a cop out and a failure. Trusting in God is also a cop and a failure unless prayer leads to study and action. To do nothing is not an option.
9.2 Systems Theory and Simulation Modeling
"We should try to be the parents of our future rather than the offspring of our past." Miguel de Unamuno
Commentary -- Nothing is unrelated to integral human development. Therefore, nothing is unrelated to sustainable development. It is an extremely complex, multidimensional, interdisciplinary process. Systems theory, and supporting techniques such as mathematical modeling and computer simulation, may offer the best range of options for scenario analysis and policy formulation. This, of course, as long as all the technicalities are supported by common sense and animated by uncommon compassion.
9.3 Management of Global, National, and Local Issues
"The law of conservation of energy tells us that we can't get something for nothing, but we refuse to believe it." Isaac Asimov
Commentary -- It is hard to determine whether or not there is a "conspiracy" about creating a new world order. Eventually, some form of world governance will be required. Local issues and national issues can be resolved at the local and national levels, respectively; but global issues require global solutions. It is also hard to anticipate whether or not the United Nations, or some reformed version of it, might be the focal point for such global governance. In any case, it is hoped that the global political system will be democratic, with checks and balances between executive, legislative, and judicial powers. Global authorities are to be elected by all nations and peoples of the world, with assurance of proportional representation. It is also hoped that any such system will be guided by the subsidiarity principle, i.e., only global issues (such as global environmental management and keeping the peace between nations) are to be elevated for disposition by the global authorities. Easier said than done, but not impossible: "Between individuals as between nations, respect for the rights of others is peace." Benito Juárez, Zapotec and president of Mexico, 1867.
9.4 The Role of Global, National, and Local Institutions
"It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong." Voltaire
Searching for National and Local Data -- Wikipedia has an article for each country, with external links to the country government and other national and local institutions. See, for example, Cuba. This is a good entry point if you need specific country data. Another good entry point for national and local institutions is Google, with queries such as the following including the quotes unless the name is a single word: <"country name" "institution name" "resource name">.
Commentary -- It would not seem desirable for humanity to be governed by a resurrected, worldwide version of the Roman empire. And God forbid that such global government to be a theocracy! Democracy is the way to go at all levels, with strict adherence to the Principle of Subsidiarity (see section 3.5). Subsidiarity is a necessary condition for good governance in all institutions, both secular and religious. The following clarification is noteworthy: "Two very different ideas are usually confounded under the name democracy. The pure idea of democracy, according to its definition, is the government of the whole people by the whole people, equally represented. Democracy as commonly conceived and hitherto practiced is the government of the whole people by a mere majority of the people, exclusively represented. The former is synonymous with the equality of all citizens; the latter, strangely confounded with it, is a government of privilege, in favor of the numerical majority, who alone possess practically any voice in the State. This is the inevitable consequence of the manner in which the votes are now taken, to the complete disfranchisement of minorities." John Stuart Mill, Representative Government, 1861.
Note -- The issues discussed in sections 9.3 and 9.4 also apply to the management of local, national, and global business organizations. Maximization of the short term profit margin irrespective of social responsibility is no longer a sustainable business model. Adaptation of business models to the new realities of sustainable development is a major challenge that cannot be avoided.
9.5 The Role of Individual Global Citizens
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away ...." Revelation 21:1
Definition: "Global citizens are willing to think beyond boundaries of place, identity and category, and recognize all human beings as their equals while respecting humanity's inherent diversity. Within their own sphere of influence, global citizens seek to imagine and work towards a better world." UBC Okanagan Academic Planning Team, March 2005.
Commentary -- The following is a well known remark attributed to anthropologist Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world, indeed that is the only way the world has ever been changed." This is certainly true, but time is of the essence for global citizens. A global critical mass of people willing to become global citizens (as defined above) is required in order to overcome the inertia that is intrinsic to cultural evolutions. If the finger pointing spectacle at Copenhagen is any indication, a critical mass of world leaders willing to become global citizens is utterly lacking. But neither apathy nor despair will get anyone going. It took Christians 300 years to evangelize the Roman empire. It is unreasonable to think that exponential growth and environmental deterioration can continue for 300 years without both humanity and the human habitat suffering irreversible damage. How long will it take to overcome all forms of gender discrimination in society and religion? Is it possible to grow in global solidarity and become global citizens as long as racism, sexism, and other "isms" continue to poison human relations? Global citizens who are religious can trust in God and the triad of prayer, study, and action. Global citizens who are not religious can still trust in their inner conscience if they embrace the principles of solidarity, sustainability, and nonviolence.
Human Development Report 2016: Human Development for Everyone
United Nations, 21 March 2017
Introduction to the 2016 Human Development Report
GLOBAL PRESS RELEASE
World’s most marginalized still left behind by global development priorities: UNDP report
Millions of people are not benefiting from progress, with the gap set to widen unless deep-
rooted development barriers, including discrimination and unequal political participation,
Stockholm, 21 March 2017 – A quarter-century of impressive human development progress continues
to leave many people behind, with systemic, often unmeasured, barriers to catching up. A stronger
focus on those excluded and on actions to dismantle these barriers is urgently needed to ensure
sustainable human development for all.
The report finds that although average human development improved significantly across all regions
from 1990 to 2015, one in three people worldwide continue to live in low levels of human
development, as measured by the Human Development Index.
“Leaving no one behind needs to become the way we operate as a global community. In order to
overcome the barriers that hamper both human development and progress towards the Sustainable
Development Goals, inclusiveness must guide policy choices,” said Swedish Prime Minister Stefan
Löfven, speaking at the launch of the report in Stockholm today, alongside UNDP Administrator Helen
Clark and the report’s lead author and Director of the Human Development Report Office, Selim Jahan.
“The world has come a long way in rolling back extreme poverty, in improving access to education,
health and sanitation, and in expanding possibilities for women and girls,” said Helen Clark. “But those
gains are a prelude to the next, possibly tougher challenge, to ensure the benefits of global progress
This is a concern in developed countries too, where poverty and exclusion are also a challenge, with
over 300 million people – including more than one-third of all children – living in relative poverty.
Left behind and unable to catch up: systemic discrimination against women, indigenous peoples
and ethnic minorities, among others
The report notes that not only are deprivations high, but disadvantages disproportionately affect some
“We place too much attention on national averages, which often mask enormous variations in people’s
lives,” stated Selim Jahan. “In order to advance, we need to examine more closely not just what has
been achieved, but also who has been excluded and why.”
The report shows that in almost every country, several groups face disadvantages that often overlap and
reinforce each other, increasing vulnerability, widening the progress gap across generations, and
making it harder to catch up as the world moves on.
Women and girls, rural dwellers, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities,
migrants and refugees, and the LGBTI community are among those systematically excluded by barriers
that are not purely economic, but political, social and cultural as well.
In the case of women, the largest of these groups, the report notes that while global gender disparities
are narrowing slowly, longstanding patters of exclusion and lack of empowerment for women and girls
remain pressing challenges.
Women tend to be poorer, earn less, and have fewer opportunities in most aspects of life than men. In
100 countries, women are legally excluded from some jobs because of their gender, and in 18
countries, women need their husband’s approval to work. Dangerous practices like female genital
mutilation and forced marriage continue.
Populations living in rural areas also face multiple barriers. For instance, children from poor rural
households attending school are less likely to be learning reading, writing and mathematics.
Moreover, migrants and refugees often face barriers to work, education and political participation
and more than 250 million people in the world face discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity,
the report notes among other examples.
It is time to face up to deep-rooted barriers to development
“By eliminating deep, persistent, discriminatory social norms and laws, and addressing the unequal
access to political participation, which have hindered progress for so many, poverty can be eradicated
and a peaceful, just, and sustainable development can be achieved for all," Helen Clark said.
Marginalized groups often have limited opportunities to influence the institutions and policies that
determine their lives. Changing this is central to breaking the vicious circle of exclusion and
For example, indigenous peoples account for five percent of the world’s population, but 15 percent of
people living in poverty. And members of the LGBTI community cannot actively advocate for their
rights when same-sex acts between men are illegal in more than 70 countries.
The report calls for far greater attention to empowering the most marginalized in society, and
recognizes the importance of giving them greater voice in decision-making processes.
The report also calls for a more refined analysis to inform actions, including making a shift toward
assessing progress in such areas as participation and autonomy. Key data, disaggregated for
characteristics such as place, gender, socioeconomic status and ethnicity, is vital to know who is being
Moreover, the report warns, key development metrics can overstate progress when they focus on the
quantity, rather than the quality, of development. For instance, girls’ enrolment in primary education
has increased, but in half of 53 developing countries with data, the majority of adult women who
completed four to six years of primary school are illiterate.
Human development for everyone is attainable
“Despite progress gaps, universal human development is attainable,” said Selim Jahan. “Over the last
decades, we have witnessed achievements in human development that were once thought impossible.”
Since 1990, one billion people have escaped extreme poverty, and women’s empowerment has become
a mainstream issue: while as recently as the 1990s, very few countries legally protected women from
domestic violence, today, 127 countries do.
The report stresses the importance of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to build on these
gains, noting that the agenda and human development approach are mutually reinforcing.
The report includes recommendations to reorient policies to ensure progress reaches those furthest
behind, and urges reforms of global markets and global institutions to make them more equitable and
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Summary Video of the 2016 Human Development Report