Seeking Sustainability

Lead Author: Dr. Jim Bowyer

Publish date: 11.17.2005


Critically Important Issues Remain Off the Table


The words sustainable and sustainability are showing up in more and more places these days, and nowhere more visibly than in association with discussions about the world’s forests. These two terms are the focus of increasing numbers of people who are concerned about the long-term effects of human activity on the global environment. Many writers have sought to define the meaning of the term “sustainable.” A favored definition is that from the groundbreaking 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission report) which defined sustainable development as ". . .development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Fundamentally, the question is whether or not the totality of human activity is altering the earth’s biosphere and natural systems so as to degrade them over time. Stated differently, can humans continue on more or less the current path for a long time – say, hundreds or even thousands of years – to come? In view of the high and growing interest in sustainability issues, it is something of a curiosity that people throughout much of the world appear unwilling or unable to address in any substantial way the pressing reality of population growth. What is most interesting about the exclusion of population growth from planning for sustainability is that the sustainability equation becomes extraordinarily challenging when rapidly rising human numbers are treated as a given. As uncomfortable as these discussions may be, it is worthwhile to consider whether it is possible for the population to double, or more, while simultaneously maintaining the world’s biodiversity; the world’s remaining indigenous cultures, hunting grounds and sacred areas; the world’s current expanse of tropical forests.