The PelicanWeb's Journal of Sustainable Development

Research Digest on Integral Human Development,
Education for Sustainable Development,
and Related Global Issues

Vol. 6, No. 2, February 2010
Luis T. Gutierrez, Editor

Home Page























"State of the World 2010" Book Review


The feature article this month is a book review. The editor needs a lot of education, and this month the reading assignment was an excellent book:

State of the World 2010:
Transforming Cultures from Consumerism to Sustainability

By Erik Assadourian & Staff, Worldwatch Institute, 2010

The review is based on notes taken while reading the book. It is given below the following chunks:

1. Overview and Outline of the Book
2. Text, Boxes, Figures, Endnotes, Index
3. General Evaluation of the Worldwatch SOW 2010
4. Limited Linkage to Ecosystem Services
5. Limited Coverage of Religious and Gender Issues
6. Conclusion and Recommendations

This issue includes two supplements:

Supplement 1: Going Forward on Sustainable Development, is an reminder that sustainable development has a human face and includes the following items:

1. Suggestions for Prayer, Study, and Action
2. News, Publications, Tools, and Conferences
3. Role Models for the Transition to Sustainability
4. Surveys on Education for Sustainable Development
5. Advances on the Path to Sustainable Development
6. Climate Interactive Scoreboard (Courtesy of the Climate Institute)
7. Carbon Dioxide Calculator (Courtesy of Carbonify and Michael Bloch)
8. International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (WCC 2011)
9. The Lord's Prayer in Aramaic (Courtesy of Spirit Quest)

Supplement 2: Directory of Sustainable Development Resources is an update of the directory of links introduced last month, with links listed under the following categories:

1. Population and Human Development
2. Cultural, Social, and Security Issues
3. Financial, Economic, and Political Issues
4. Ecological Resources and Ecosystem Services
5. Renewable and Nonrenewable Energy Sources
6. Pollution, Climate Change, and Environmental Management
7. Land, Agriculture, Food Supply, and Water Supply
8. Current Outlook for the Planet and Human Civilization
9. Transition from Consumerism to Sustainability

The invited papers this month are the following:

Truth and Consequences on the Last Frontier, by Richard Steiner (Page 2)
Woman as "Other" in Monotheistic Religious Discourse, by Zilka Spahic-Šiljak (Page 3)
A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030, by Mark Jacobson & Mark Delucchi (Page 4)

Review of
State of the World 2010:
Transforming Cultures from Consumerism to Sustainability

By Erik Assadourian & Staff, Worldwatch Institute, 2010
ISBN 978-0-393-33726-6

This book is a significant contribution to understanding the process of sustainable development worldwide. It is a courageous contribution in that things are said that many people still do not want to hear. Specifically, it is about cultural values and the kinds of cultural changes that (with high probability) will be required in order to reverse consumerist human behavior that is destroying the human habitat. The linkage between behavior modification and ecosystem services is not clearly articulated. A more explicit explanation of this linkage would have been useful. Another issue that would have deserved more attention is the negative role that most religious institutions are playing in the struggle for gender equality, which is a precondition for sustainable development. This is of course a controversial issue, but it needs to be faced. Overall, however, the book is an outstanding piece of work and a reassuring message of hope for the future of humanity.

1. Overview and Outline of the Book

This book is a significant contribution to sustainable development worldwide. It is a courageous contribution in that things are said that many people still do not want to hear. Specifically, it is about cultural values and the kinds of cultural changes that (with high probability) will be required in order to reverse the ongoing process of destroying the human habitat. It follows that the book is about reversing the process of destroying human civilization, since no such civilization can exist without a supporting web of material and living resources.

Studying this book has been an education for this editor. It is recommended that all subscribers get a copy of this book (a bargain at $19.95). You will not be disappointed. This book review by no means comparable with reading the book. The review is simply the editor's compilation of notes taken while reading it, including comments and personal opinions that may or may not be on target. Needless to say, the Worldwatch Institute is innocent of any distortion or incorrect interpretation of the book. A good overview of the contents is provided by the book's outline:

Table of Contents of State of the World 2010
Erik Assadourian, Worldwatch Institute

Foreword by Muhammad Yunus, Founder, Grameen Bank, and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
Preface by Christopher Flavin, President, Worldwatch Institute
State of the World: A Year in Review, by Lisa Mastny with Valentina Agostinelli


Engaging Religions to Shape Worldviews – Gary Gardner
Ritual and Taboo as Ecological Guardians - Gary Gardner
Environmentally Sustainable Childbearing - Robert Engelman
Elders: A Cultural Resource for Promoting Sustainable Development - Judi Aubel
From Agriculture to Permaculture - Albert Bates and Toby Hemenway
Early Childhood Education to Transform Cultures for Sustainability - Ingrid Pramling Samuelsson and Yoshie Kaga
Commercialism in Children’s Lives - Susan Linn
Rethinking School Food: The Power of the Public Plate - Kevin Morgan and Roberta Sonnino
What Is Higher Education for Now? - David W. Orr
Adapting Institutions for Life in a Full World - Robert Costanza, Joshua Farley, and Ida Kubiszewski
Sustainable Work Schedules for All - Juliet Schor
Changing Business Cultures from Within - Ray Anderson, Mona Amodeo, and Jim Hartzfeld
Social Entrepreneurs: Innovating Toward Sustainability - Johanna Mair and Kate Ganly
Relocalizing Business - Michael H. Shuman
Editing Out Unsustainable Behavior - Michael Maniates
Broadening the Understanding of Security - Michael Renner
Building the Cities of the Future - Peter Newman
Reinventing Health Care: From Panacea to Hygeia - Walter Bortz
Earth Jurisprudence: From Colonization to Participation - Cormac Cullinan
From Selling Soap to Selling Sustainability: Social Marketing - Jonah Sachs and Susan Finkelpearl
Media Literacy, Citizenship, and Sustainability - Robin Andersen and Pamela Miller
Music: Using Education and Entertainment to Motivate Change - Amy Han
Reducing Work Time as a Path to Sustainability - John de Graaf
Inspiring People to See That Less Is More - Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska
Ecovillages and the Transformation of Values - Jonathan Dawson
1. Do High Consumption Levels Improve Human Well-being? by Erik Assadourian
2. The Essential Role of Cultural Pioneers, by Erik Assadourian
3. A Global Ecological Ethic, by Patrick Curry
4. Deepening Perceptions of Time, by Alexander Rose
5. Dietary Norms That Heal People and the Planet, by Erik Assadourian and Eddie Kasner
6. Sustainability and the Human-Nature Relationship, by Almut Beringer
7. Toy Libraries, by Lucie Ozanne and Julie Ozanne
8. Transformation of the California Academy of Sciences, by Gregory C. Farrington
9. Unresolved Questions in Environmental Education, by David C. Orr
10. Maximizing the Value of Professional Schools, by Erik Assadourian
11. A New Focus for Scientists: How Cultures Change, by Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich
12. The Folly of Infinite Growth on a Finite Planet, by Řystein Dahle
13. Upgrading the Corporate Charter, by Kevin Green and Erik Assadourian
14. Cradle to Cradle: Adapting Production to Nature’s Model, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart
15. A Carbon Index for the Financial Market, by Eduardo Athayde
16. The U.N. Marrakech Process on Sustainable Consumption and Production, by Stefanie Bowles
17. Making Social Welfare Programs Sustainable, by Kevin Green and Erik Assadourian
18. Principles of Earth Jurisprudence, by Cormac Cullinan
19. The Evolving Role of Environmental Journalism in India, by Raj Chengappa
20. Lights, Camera, Ecological Consciousness, by Yann Arthus-Bertrand
21. Art for Earth’s Sake, by Satish Kumar
22. Growing a Degrowth Movement, by Serge Latouche
23. The Slow Food Movement, by Helene Gallis

The review is documented in the following five sections. Section 2 is an assessment of the building blocks, i.e., front matter, chapters, boxes and illustrations embedded in the text, and the endnotes and index at the end. Section 3 is an overall assessment of the book, using the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals and UNESCO's Education for Sustainable Development key themes as points of reference. Section 4 is another review iteration to evaluate the book against the two major sustainable development strategies, i.e., mitigation and adaptation. Section 5 is just a personal opinion about the somewhat limited coverage of gender equality issues, most of which are rooted in ancient religious traditions/taboos. Section 6 is a brief summary of sections 2 to 5, and a personal recommendation for all subscribers of this journal: buy and read the book!

2. Text, Boxes, Figures, Endnotes, Index

This is a brief section on the basic building blocks of the book: text, boxes, figures, endnotes, and index.

  • Text - The text is written at a professional level, but technical mumbo-jumbo and pseudo academic parrot talk have been mercifully filtered out. The text is provided in chapters that are 4 or 5 pages long, thus making it possible to read a chapter in one sitting. The main body of the boom is preceded by acknowledgements, a forward written by Muhammad Yunus (founder of the Grameen Bank and 2006 Nobel Peace Laureate) and a preface by Peter Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute. There is also a timeline of SOW-related events (October 2008 to September 2009) that shows the well known "two steps forward, one step backward" pattern. Each event is briefly described. The timeline (by Lisa Mastny and Valentina Agostinelli) is a nice reminder the reader as to where we are coming from. The text is organized under seven sections and 26 chapters (see the book's outline in section 1 of this review).
  • Boxes - Each chapter includes summary boxes. Very informative and well written. After reading the box, the reader may be tempted to skip the chapter. Read the box first if you want, but then read the entire chapter.
  • Tables and Figures - Each chapter also includes one or more tables and figures. But they are nicely spaced so as not to clutter the book. Again, take a look at the tables and figures first if you want, but resist the temptation to skip the text after looking at the boxes, tables, and figures. This editor is aware that most subscribers are very busy people. You will not waste your time reading this book.
  • Endnotes - The endnotes provide complete supporting documentation of statements made in the text. Many of them include the links to material available online. One disadvantage of a hard copy book is that you cannot click on them. But this reviewer was not able to find any broken link or a reference to irrelevant material. Pointers to the endnotes would have been easier to follow if the page where the endnote is located is given. Details, details ....
  • Index - Likewise, the index is adequate in terms of entries, and the pointers to book pages are accurate. Surprisingly, there is no entry for "poverty." Index entries for each of the MDGs and ESDs would have been useful. Details, details ....
It is not difficult to navigate through this book. This is remarkable in that the book covers a huge forest with great diversity of trees. It is a very good example in interdisciplinary integration. Reading is most profitable when the chapters are read in sequence, but each chapter encapsulates a theme well enough that it stands by itself. This is a book to keep on top of your desk during 2010 and beyond. So, given that all the required scaffolding seems to be in place, what about the substantive content inside the building?

3. General Evaluation of the Worldwatch SOW 2010

Buildings need to have all bricks in place according to an architecture that is appropriate in terms of how the building is to be used. Good chunks of text, good highlight boxes, good figures, good, endnotes, and a good index do not necessarily yield a good book unless they are combined and linked together for ease of understanding and learning by the reader. Indeed, the SOW 2010 book is put together, like a good building, with all the bricks in place. And the architecture of the book as a whole is highly educational.

In a book like this, a good measure of quality is coverage, i.e., the extent to which all relevant topics are covered for the benefit of the reader. In this review, we use the U.N. Millennium Development Goals and UNESCO's key themes of Education for Sustainable Development as a frame of reference. The following table summarizes the SOW 2010 coverage of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs):

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) SOW 2010 Coverage of each MDG
End Poverty & Hunger
MDG1 sets the following targets: "Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day. Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people. Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger."

Transforming cultures from consumerism to sustainability surely must include a renewed focus on distributive justice and bridging the widening gap between the very rich and the very poor. As John de Graaf points out in "Reducing Work Time as a Path to Sustainability," page 174: "Industrial countries cannot deny the rights of developing nations to greater economic prosperity while others continue to consume at current levels. That would be asking them to sacrifice so that the rest of the world can binge awhile longer." Then he offers a solution: "The current situation cannot continue, but people in the industrial countries are reluctant to reduce their "standard of living. Is there a solution to this stand-off? Yes: the rich nations of the world must immediately begin to trade advances in labor productivity for free time instead of additional purchasing power." It makes sense but, how will such trade in the rich nations translate into reducing the rich-poor gap? Recommended: Poverty in Focus - The MDGs and beyond: Pro-Poor Policy in a Changing World, IPC-IG/UNDP, Brasilia, January 2010.
Universal Education
MDG2 sets the following target: "Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling."

It is incredible that, in some countries, they still have difficulty understanding that MDG2 is intended for boys and girls alike. Poverty is often cited as the main reason. Other reasons, seldom mentioned, are religious distortions and primitive taboos. Coverage on MDG2 is provided by "Early Childhood Education to Transform Cultures for Sustainability" (Samuelsson & Kaga), "Media Literacy, Citizenship, and Sustainability" (Andersen & Miller), and Music: Using Education and Entertainment to Motivate Change (Han).

These three chapters provide important guidance of the kind of education need, starting at the K-12 level. It must create environmental awareness. It must create the ability to distinguish between useless (or harmful) distractions and useful engagements -- both in the classroom and in the playground. It must include the arts to motivate the kind of learning that leads to action. Han's chapter is very insightful: "From conception, humans are exposed to music."

In the chapter on ""Media Literacy, Citizenship, and Sustainability" (Andersen & Miller) there are two very informative inserts. Table 11 in page 160 is a list of projects to promote media literacy in twelve countries, including institutions to be contacted. Box 19 in page 162, on the evolving role of environmental journalism in India (Changappa) is a case example of the obstacles journalists face when trying to report on something that is difficult to understand and may not be seen as "politically correct." There is a Society of Environmental Journalists and an International Federation of Environmental Journalists. There is also an Earth Journalism Network. Hopefully, these groups are acting as change agents.
Promote Gender Equality
MDG3 is about overcoming all manner of gender discrimination. Specifically: "Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015."
There are two chapters that attempt to address MDG3 and the gender equality issues: "Engaging Religions to Shape World Views" and "Ritual and Taboo as Ecological Guardians" (both by Gary Gardner). The coverage is excellent in the social dimension but superficial in the religious dimension.
Improve Child Health
MDG4 is about child mortality rate and, more generally, about pediatric health care. Specific 1025 target: "Reduce by two thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate."

The SOW 2010 includes plenty of material on the health and well-being of children: "Environmentally Sustainable Childbearing" (Engelman), "Commercialism in Children's Lives" (Linn), and "Rethinking School Food" (Morgan & Sonnino). Table 7 on toy libraries (Ozanne & Ozanne) is a practical suggestion that should be considered by all towns worldwide.
Improve Maternal Health
MDG5 sets the following targets on maternal mortality and reproductive health, but the eventual scope is to include all health care needs of mothers during pregnancy, delivery, and recovery. The 2015 targets are: "Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio. Achieve universal access to reproductive health."

The book provides good coverage of MDG5, albeit in the context of general health care services. See the coverage of the ESD theme on promoting human health in the next table.
MDG6 is currently focused on the HIV epidemic, but gradually should include other diseases such as malaria, as well as new epidemics that are bound to emerge as a consequence of air and water pollution and the accumulation of garbage. The most urgent targets are: "Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS. Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases."

MDG6 in tightly coupled with MDGs 1, 2, 3, and 7. The coupling to MDG 1-2-3 is self-evident. There is triple coupling to MDG7: pollution keeps accumulating, clean water is becoming scarce, and many landfills are already leaking. In the SOW 2010, there are two chapters that cover these issues: "Elders: A Cultural Resource for Promoting Sustainable Development" (Aubel) and "Social Entrepreneurs: Innovating Toward Sustainability" (Mair & Ganly).
Environmental Sustainability
MDG7 is to attain environmental sustainability: Targets: "Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources and biodiversity. Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation."
The concept that environmental sustainability is incompatible with material economic development is well explained in this book. It is made abundantly clear that the incompatibility vanishes as soon as "development" is not restricted to growth in the consumption of natural resources. This is explained from different angles by "Adapting Institutions for Life in a Full World" (Costanza et. al.), "Changing Business Cultures from Within" Anderson et. al.), and "Social Entrepreneurs: Innovating Toward Sustainability" (Mair & Ganly). However, it would have been useful to correlate the many good recommendations in the book with the conservation and/or restoration of ecosystem services. Interface, Inc. provides a good case example of business evolution toward sustainability. But this chapter, as well as Table 13 on upgrading the corporate charter (Green & Assadourian), could have been even more useful for business executives searching for tools that can help them do the missionary work. It is not reasonable to expect that all corporations will have enlightened management and/or "sustainability champions" who can get the ball rolling. In those cases, tested tools such as ISO-9000 on quality management, ISO-14000 on environmental management, and ISO-26000 on corporate social responsibility (forthcoming) can be very useful until they develop their own synthesis on "how we do things here."
Global Partnership for Development
MDG8 is where the rubber meets the road: "Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system. Deal comprehensively with developing countries’ debt."

This is the most critical of the MDGs, but a global partnership for development cannot materialize without a concurrent global partnership for the protection of natural resources. Both partnerships require a cultural transformation from competition to solidarity, i.e., from self-interest alone to a balance between self-interest and the common good. As the recent meeting in Copenhagen confirmed, embracing a mindset of global solidarity is not yet visible even in the most optimistic radar screens. Coverage: "Earth Jurisprudence: From Colonization to Participation" (Cullinan), "Relocalizing Business" (Shuman), "From Selling Soap to Selling Sustainability: Social Marketing" (Sachs & Finkelpearl).

MDG8 is both the most critical and the most difficult of the MDGs, because it requires cultural change on a global scale. Progress toward this goal will require thinking and acting on the message of some of the boxes in this book:
      Box 2 on the role of cultural pioneers (Assadourian)
      Box 3 on a global ecological ethic (Curry)
      Box 4 on thinking and planning long-term (Rose)
      Box 6 on symbiosis between people and nature (Beringer)
      Box 11 on how cultures change (Ehrlich & Ehrlich)
      Box 15 on carbon indexing of stocks/derivatives (Athayde)
      Box 18 on principles of earth jurisprudence (Cullinan)
      Box 20 on ecological consciousness (Arthus-Bertrand)

The concept of "restorative justice" in Table 18 is very appealing. Punishment of the victimizer sometimes gives a visceral sense of satisfaction to the victims, but punishment per se seldom restores justice. Indeed, restoration sounds much better than retribution. A quick visit to the Restorative Justice site was very instructive.

Going back to MDG8, it is becoming increasingly self-evident that global problems require global solutions. Are we ready for authentically democratic global governance?

The following table summarizes the SOW 2010 coverage of UNESCO's key themes to be included in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) themes:

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) SOW 2010 Coverage of each ESD Theme
Sustainable Urbanization
"Urban areas undeniably pose potential threats to sustainable development. With responsible decision-making, however, cities also hold promising opportunities for social and economic advancement and for environmental improvements at local, national, and global levels."

Both inner city issues are inter-city transportation are covered, for example, in "Building the Cities of the Future" (Newman). Several good programs are mentioned, such as BedZed, LivingSmart, and TravelSmart. The section on "kicking the car habit" is right on target and written in a sensitive way; nevertheless, some people are going to have tantrums. Another good resource to suggest would be EnnerCities.
Sustainable Consumption
"Our choices as consumers today will impact the way people live tomorrow. Sustainable consumption means consuming goods and services without harming the environment or society. Living a sustainable lifestyle is essential to overcoming poverty and conserving and protecting the natural resource base for all forms of life."

The entire book is about this theme. The following chapters specifically focus on sustainable consumption: "The Rise and Fall of Consumer Cultures" (Assadourian), "Editing Out Unsustainable Behavior" (Maniates), "From Selling Soap to Selling Sustainability: Social Marketing" (Sachs & Finkelpearl), and "Inspiring People to See That Less is More" (Andrews & Urbanska). See also Box 1 on consumption and human well-being (Assadourian), Box 12 on infinite growth in a finite planet (Dahle), Box 14 on industrial ecology (McDonough & Braungart), Box 16 on the Marrakech process for sustainable production and consumption (Bowles), Box 23 on growing a degrowth movement (Latouche), and Box 23 on the slow food movement (Gallis). It is noteworthy that "inspiring people to see that less is more" is no longer an idealistic slogan. To some extent it can be verified empirically and even numerically, as shown by calculations such as the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) and the Happy Planet Index.
Peace and Human Security
"Peace and security are fundamental to human dignity and development. The sustainable development of any culture is always endangered insecurity and conflict. Education for sustainable development plays a key role in promoting values for peace."

This theme is top priority for most people worldwide. Good coverage is provided by "Broadening the Understanding of Security" (Renner).
Rural Development
"This initiative aims at increasing access to basic education for rural people, improving the quality of basic education in rural areas, fostering the national capacity to plan and implement basic education in a way that addresses the learning needs of rural people."

Sustainable agriculture is at the heart of rural development, as explained in "From Agriculture to Permaculture" (Bates & Hemenway). Table 5 in this chapter, on dietary norms (Assadourian & Kasner) is a good insert, although it is more relevant to education for health promotion. Ecological agriculture is the way to go for rural development, just as ecological economics is the way to go for economic development. Some case examples are given, such as the Kafrin permaculture project in Jordan. But a better table for this chapter would have been a list of case examples spanning all continents. Is such a list available somewhere?
Cultural Diversity
"Education must respect diversity. ESD aims at promoting teaching which respects indigenous and traditional knowledge, and encourages the use of indigenous languages in education and the integration of worldviews and perspectives on sustainability into education programmes at all levels."

Nothing human is perfect, and this includes cultures. The value of cultural diversity actually diminishes if people of any given culture are not willing to reconsider things in light of wisdom received from another culture. Fostering cultural diversity during the transition from consumerism to sustainability must go hand in hand with ensuring that people are ready and willing to embrace diversity; else, tensions and conflicts often arise that become obstacles to the cultural evolution.

Some cultures may have to undergo the transition from consumerism to sustainability before undergoing the transition from uniformity to diversity. For instance, cultures like described by Aubel ("Elders: A Cultural Resource for Promoting Sustainable Development") might not readily mix with cultures who place elderly people in nursing homes. A more promising approach is to learn about cultural diversity, and come to recognize that "unity in diversity" is an asset, in small communities such as described by Dawson ("Ecovillages and the Transformation of Values"). These culturally diverse small communities then become seeds for the acceptability of cultural diversity by larger communities.

Education for sustainable development should include past, present, and future. In this regard, Table 8 on the transformation of the California Academy of Sciences (Farrington) describes a good model to imitate. This model is not only for schools and museums, but for all institutions. Regarding cultural diversity, all institutions need to be educated in order to educate; and all institutions can and should contribute to the splendid task of life long education focused on this crucial question: "How did life arise and evolve, and how can it be sustained?"

Table 10 on maximizing the value of professional schools (Assadourian) builds on Table 8 with especial focus on graduate education. Many graduate schools need a cultural transformation of their own. This applies to all academic specialties, including business schools. MBA and DBA programs focused on exotic math and crunching numbers may need to integrate courses in sustainable management, corporate social responsibility, the triple bottom line, and preventing business executives from becoming sub-human. Visits to the Presidio School of Business Management and the Bainbridge Graduate Institute web sites were very refreshing. The Baldrige National Quality Program also needs to be enhanced with a green dimension.

Cultural diversity is also enriched by the arts. In fact, the arts should be an ingredient in every program for sustainable development. Box 21 on art for the earth's sake (Kumar) makes this point in the context of the chapter on music, but all forms of art are good for the human spirit and have an important role to play in sustainable development. Perhaps we need fewer technologists and more artists. Technologists are generally well paid and probably have a heavier footprint than artists. But it is not only a matter of footprint. While artists often are the strongest critics of injustice and oppression, they also have a propensity to filter out bad news and focus on what is promising for a better future. See, for example, Global Warming Art and Ministry of the Arts.
Gender Equality
"The pursuit of gender equality is central to sustainable development where each member of society respects others and plays a role in which they can fulfill their potential. The broader goal of gender equality is a societal one to which education and all other social institutions, must contribute. The full and equal engagement of women is crucial to ensuring a sustainable future."

There are two chapters that attempt to address this ESD theme: "Engaging Religions to Shape World Views" and "Ritual and Taboo as Ecological Guardians" (both by Gary Gardner). Again, the coverage is excellent in the social dimension but superficial in the religious dimension.
Health Promotion
Issues of development, environment and health are closely entwined – ill-health hampers economic and social development. Hunger, malnutrition, malaria, water-borne diseases, drug and alcohol abuse, violence and injury, unplanned pregnancy, HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections are just some of the problems that have enormous implications for health."

This theme is currently a hot issue in the USA and remains a critical concern worldwide. In the SOW 2010, see "Sustainable Work Schedules for All" (Schor), "Reinventing Health Care: From Panacea to Hygeia" (Bortz), and "Reducing Work Time as a Path to Sustainability" (de Graaf). Reducing the footprint of health care services is key. The "village doctor" concept of the French health care system is very appealing. Careful with Cuba -- quality health care is not readily available to political dissidents and to ordinary Cubans who are not identified with the totalitarian regime. On the other hand, it is made clear that the role of health insurance companies (in the USA and elsewhere) is far from exemplary. The link between "affluenza" and human health, the benefits of "work-life balance" and the need for "best practices" is well explained. To be specific, could have mentioned the ISO standards and best practices for quality management, environmental management, corporate social responsibility, etc. Box 17 on making social welfare programs sustainable (Green & Assadourian) is a good exposition of how the principles of human ecology can be used to enhance human health.
Environmental Stewardship
"There can be no long-term economic or social development on a depleted planet. Teaching society how to behave responsibly towards the environment lies at the core of education for sustainable development. In particular, ESD must encourage new behaviors to protect the world’s natural resources."

The same chapters that cover MDG7 (Environmental Sustainability) are relevant for this ESD theme. Specifically from an educational perspective, education for environmental stewardship should start early. "Early Childhood Education to Transform Cultures for Sustainability" (Samuelsson & Kaga) is a very instructive chapter. Gender equality is an integral part of the desired cultural evolution, and education for gender equality should start in preschool (note 13) as it is "a precondition for a sustainable society." All parents in the world should read "Commercialism in Children's Lives" (Linn) in order to understand what commercialism does to children, as they are targeted by advertising to ask for useless things, including games of violence. Orr's chapter -- "What is Higher Education for Now?" -- provides an overview of college and graduate level education and brings up two examples of progress: Bhutan's switch from GNP to GNH (Gross National Happiness) as the official yardstick of national well-being, and the Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior (MAHB) initiative at Stanford University. It would have been useful to correlate the many good recommendations in the book with the conservation/restoration of ecosystem services.

Coverage is A+ for all MDGs and ESDs except gender equality. Coverage for the MDG and ESD pertaining to gender equality is C-. It is noteworthy that gender equality issues are given some consideration in the chapters dealing with secular and religious traditions (pages 23-35) but only mentioned in passing in some of the other chapters. It is a sensitive issue, isn't it? And it becomes even more sensitive when it is recognized that many (most?) gender inequities are rooted in religious traditions -- including all the major religious traditions such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. There is a common denominator in most (all?) religions: men and women are considered to be equal as human beings, but men are more equal than women when it comes to roles of religious authority. Granted that the MDGs and ESDs define gender equality in purely secular terms, the religious roots of the problem must be faced by someone, somewhere, and better sooner than later. But the book deals with enough controversial issues of cultural transformation and wisely avoids diluting the message by getting into the turbulence of the religious dimension. More about this in section 5.

In brief, the general evaluation of the SOW 2010 by this reviewer is a solid A.

4. Limited Linkage to Ecosystem Services

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) (UN, 2005) defines the term ecosystem services as "the benefits people obtain from ecosystems." These benefits are many, and a good list can be found here. Another good list can be found here, together with an estimate that, as of 1997, the value of ecosystem services worldwide was about 33 trillion dollars per year.

The MDGs and ESDs are high level categories of development goals and educational tasks. Ecosystem services moves us closer to the ground. The following are the four principal findings of the MEA project about the "state of ecosystems" as of 2005:

1. Over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber, and fuel. This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.

2. The changes that have been made to ecosystems have contributed to substantial net gains in human well-being and economic development, but these gains have been achieved at growing costs in the form of the degradation of many ecosystem services, increased risks of nonlinear changes, and the exacerbation of poverty for some groups of people. These problems, unless addressed, will substantially diminish the benefits that future generations obtain from ecosystems.

3. The degradation of ecosystem services could grow significantly worse during the first half of this century and is a barrier to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

4. The challenge of reversing the degradation of ecosystems while meeting increasing demands for their services can be partially met under some scenarios that the MA has considered, but these involve significant changes in policies, institutions, and practices that are not currently under way. Many options exist to conserve or enhance specific ecosystem services in ways that reduce negative trade-offs or that provide positive synergies with other ecosystem services.

Based on these findings, it would seem reasonable for the SOW 2010 to link the many mitigation and adaptation actions described throughout the book to ecosystem services. In other words, it would be useful to know what ecosystem service(s) are improved (or further degraded) if the recommended actions are taken (or not taken) during the transition from consumerism to sustainability. The following table is an attempt to isolate how the SOW 2010 recommendations relate to ecosystem services.

Provisioning Services Food 141 (>100 N/A)
Fiber 0
Fuel 8 (6 N/A)
Genetic resources 1 (N/A>
Biochemicals, natural medicines,
and pharmaceuticals
1 (N/A)
Ornamental resources 0
Fresh water 1
Regulating Services Air quality regulation 0
Climate regulation 8
Water regulation 21
Erosion regulation 2
Water purification and waste treatment 1
Disease regulation 9
Pest regulation 0
Pollination 0
Natural hazard regulation 1 (N/A)
Cultural Services Cultural diversity 3 (N/A)
Spiritual and religious values 44 (>30 N/A)
Knowledge systems (traditional
and formal)
Educational values 152 (>100 N/A)
Inspiration 2
Aesthetic values 0
Social relations 175 (>100 N/A)
Sense of place 11 (9 N/A)
Cultural heritage values 2
Recreation and ecotourism 14
Supporting Services Soil formation 6
Photosynthesis 0
Primary production 0
Nutrient cycling 1 (N/A>
Water cycling 0
Note: "N/A" means that the ecosystem services keywords were not used in the context of ecosystem services. For instance, "fuel" is mentioned eight times, but six of those are in the context of fossil fuels and only two are in the context of wood and other biofuels generated by ecosystems.

Just searching by keywords gives the impression that the SOW 2010 is not tightly coupled to ecosystems services. This is not to imply that the book is deficient. There are limits to what you can put in 244 pages. Perhaps more detail might have negative value for the kind of audience that the book is trying to reach. What matters is to make people aware of the need for transitioning from consumerism to sustainability, and to motivate people to start on consumption mitigation and cultural adaptation initiatives. The following image, which captures the main themes of the book, may be more useful.

Created using WORDLE

The image was created by entering the entire book (exclusive of the front matter, headers, footers, endnotes, and index) into the WORDLE text analysis tool developed by Jonathan Feinberg. WORDLE is a web-based tool for generating "word clouds" from chunks of text. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. Given a chunk of English text, WORDLE first removes all the common English words, and then generates a "cloud" (or collage) of the most frequently used noncommon words. The size of the words is indicative of the main themes covered in the book. The word "ecological" shows up, but "ecosystem" does not. In fact, many MDG and ESD keywords do not show up either.

Granted that the book is not about the MDGs, or the ESDs, or ecosystem services, this reviewer would have been delighted to find a chapter on the MDGs, a chapter on the ESDs, and a chapter on ecosystem services. These chapters could have served as syntheses of how all the mitigation and adaptation recommendations in the book would contribute to moving toward the goals, implementing the educational programs, and restoring ecosystem services.

5. Limited Coverage of Religious and Gender Issues

In section 3, it was noted that the book's coverage of most MDG-related and ESD-related critical issues is outstanding, with perhaps one exception: gender equality. The same was noted in section 4 with regard to both mitigation of machismo and cultural adaptation pursuant to overcoming gender inequities. It is recognized that this is a sensitive issue, and sensitivities are exacerbated when the connection is made to the religious roots that sustain the propensity to overvalue what is masculine and undervalue what is feminine.

It is noteworthy that gender equality issues are given some consideration in the chapters dealing with secular and religious traditions (pages 23-35) but only mentioned in passing in some of the other chapters. It is also noteworthy that all chapter authors are highly competent in their professional specialties -- but not a single one is a religious scholar or a religious professional in any capacity. Given the multiplicity of religions and religious institutions -- and the sensitivity to religious criticism, and the tensions that persist among religions -- the absence of religious experts in the editorial and writing staff is understandable.

It is miraculous that, while most religious institutions still resist having women in roles of real religious authority, some progress is being made in the secular arena. Thankfully, the voice of God still resounds in the events of history. The emergence of gender equality is a sign of the times. It is also a precondition for integral human development, which in turn is the core of sustainable development. Once again, it is understandable that the religious traditions and/or taboos that tend to perpetuate gender inequities receive scarce attention in this book. This editor has no delusions about being an expert in religion, let alone the comparative study of religions. But there is mounting evidence that most religious institutions, while doing much good to humanity in other spheres, are failing miserably to recognize that excluding women from roles of real religious authority has a nefarious impact on society and, therefore, on the viability of the sustainable development process. And this is a universal cultural phenomenon in both religion and society, so claiming that any particular religion has received a "divine revelation" on this matter is an exercise in absurdity.

Two clarifications are in order:

1. It must be understood that, in a religious context, "authority" means authority to serve, not authority to dominate. Granted that this is not always the case due to human frailties, religious "power" should always be used for the glory of God and the good of people, and never should be used for self-glorification or domination of others.

2. It must be understood that all human beings, along the entire gender spectrum, suffer the negative repercussions of gender inequities. In particular, men suffer as much as women, if not more. Clinical evidence confirms that men who suffer from machismo have a greater propensity to violence and, in one way or another, "what goes around comes around."

Overcoming gender bias in religion has nothing to do with seeking power in the secular sense. It has everything to do with the glory of God and the good of humanity. There are many documented examples of the negative social impact of gender bias in religion. The following are just a few examples and some recent reports:

  • Female genital mutilation and other, more or less barbaric practices that need not be listed here -- all rooted in primitive thinking, all irrational -- and therefore not of divine origin, since God only wants what is good for humanity.
  • The notion that patriarchy is the family structure willed by God, with practical implications that range from benign condescension to domestic violence -- and children learning that patriarchy is normative.
  • The Papal No, by Deborah Halter, Crossroad, 2004. A carefully documented account of the theologically baseless Vatican refusal to ordain women, using Christ as the scapegoat, in order to perpetuate the male-only ecclesiastical hierarchy. What message is that sending to 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide?
  • Woman as "Other" in Monotheistic Religious Discourse, Zilka Spahic-Šiljak, Puls demokratije, 16 January 2008. Empirical data, based on analysis of Catholic, Orthodox, and Islamic religious periodicals, that shows a systematic bias in favor of the subordination of women. Note: This article is reprinted with permission in page 3 of this issue.
  • Beheading and Religious profiling, Aloysious Mowe SJ, Washington Post, 2009.
  • Are Judaism and Christianity as Violent as Islam?, Raymond Ibrahim, Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2009.
  • We must face religion's role in oppressing women, Elizabeth Payne, Ottawa, 15 January 2010.
  • Church leaders are wrong on equality, Savitri Hensman, Guardian, 26 January 2010.

This reviewer utterly fails to understand how undervaluing 50% of humanity can be a positive contribution to human well-being or how it can be supportive of a nonviolent transition from consumerism to sustainability. In this regard, the SOW 2010 is too uncritical of religious traditions and institutions. Nothing human is above criticism. There can be no question that much good is done in the name of religion, and "engaging religions to shape worldviews" is fine as long as the shaping is for the good of humanity; but not otherwise.

6. Conclusion and Recommendations

"Faith is like a bird, who sings and announces the arrival of a new day while it is still dark."
Rabindranath Tagore

The main value of this book is the reassuring message of hope for the future of humanity. It is a timely message, and one that is repeated in practically every page. And the message is reinforced by concrete examples of concrete initiatives that people and organizations are undertaking without waiting for any grandiose plan to transition from consumerism to sustainability. At a time when the world might seem to be falling apart and it is increasingly recognized that there can be no GPS roadmap to guide people on the ground, the SOW 2010 shows the only sensible way forward:

"Caminante, no hay camino; se hace camino al andar."
"Walker, there is no road; the road is made by walking."
Antonio Machado

The Washington Post of 24 January 2010 (page G) carried a short and very practical article by Michelle Singletary, "Stop spending and start giving." She suggests abstaining from buying anything superfluous for 21 days, then calculate the amount saved and give it to a charity or a community improvement project. It brings to mind President Kennedy's words, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." That was 49 years ago. A reasonable paraphrase today would be, "ask not what the world can do for you, but what you can do for the world."

From cover to cover, the entire SWO 2010 conveys a constant message: mitigation, mitigation, mitigation. But there is also background music that complements the appeals to mitigation by reminding us that mitigation might not be enough, and then the message becomes: mitigation and adaptation, mitigation and adaptation, mitigation and adaptation. The SOW 2010 is about the need for both mitigation and adaptation. Indeed, both are needed.

In brief:

  • At the moment, the SOW 2010 may well be the best introductory book about sustainable development. It is highly recommended for any person who is concerned with the challenges facing humanity in the years and decades ahead.
  • The transition from consumerism to sustainability must include the conservation and/or restoration of ecosystem services that are indispensable for human well-being.
    • A directory of mitigation and adaptation initiatives/policies, cross-referenced with the expected effects on ecosystem services, would be most useful.
  • Gender equality is a sign of the times. Some progress is emerging in the secular sphere, but not so (with few exceptions) in the religious sphere. Religious resistance to gender equality is a significant obstacle to the transition from consumerism to sustainability.
    • A directory of gender equality initiatives/policies, cross-referenced with the religious institutions that could be engaged for support, would be very useful.
  • Since it is recognized that facts alone do not lead to action, a reasonably civilized transition from consumerism to sustainability requires action-oriented sister groups for think tanks such as the Worldwatch Institute.

Despair is not an option. Loosing hope is not an option. Religious persons should never lose hope if the really believe that God loves each and every human being and wants only what is good for humanity. Non-religious persons should never lose hope either, because it is irrational to conclude that everything humans do that is bad and ugly will prevail, and everything that is good and beautiful in the unfolding history of humanity should come to an end by the work of human hands. Such despair can lead to fear and paralysis, and this is not the time to succumb to fear, let alone paralysis.

"Things are getting better and better, and worse and worse, faster and faster."
Tom Atlee

Hyperactivity can be as harmful as procrastination. Reckless or ill-considered actions, no matter how well intentioned, are often counterproductive. The world is a complex socio-ecological system, and such systems are known to display counterintuitive behavior in response to human activity. And, facts are necessary but not sufficient for people to act for the common good. A civilized transition from consumerism to sustainability will require a lot of "missionary work" pursuant to developing a global critical mass of human solidarity and a global consensus on adherence to the principle of subsidiarity.

After Copenhagen, are we ready for authentically democratic global governance?

|Back to SUMMARY| |Back to OUTLINE|

|Back to SECTION 1| |Back to SECTION 2| |Back to SECTION 3|
|Back to SECTION 4| |Back to SECTION 5| |Back to SECTION 6|
|Back to SECTION 7| |Back to SECTION 8| |Back to SECTION 9|

| Link to Page 2 |      | Link to Page 3 |      | Link to Page 4 |

| Link to Supplement 1 |      | Link to Supplement 2 |

| Link to the PelicanWeb Home Page |

"Civilization in its present form hasn't got long."

James Lovelock


Write to the Editor
Send email to Subscribe
Send email to Unsubscribe
Link to the Google Groups Website
Link to the Home Page


Creative Commons License

Page 1      



Subscribe to the
PelicanWeb's Journal of
Sustainable Development

via the Solidarity-Sustainability Group

Enter your email address: