Much of the confusion stems from a poor description or understanding of the word development itself. The root of the word is Old French: de-envelop. That is, peeling back, getting to the core. Quite the opposite of how the word is commonly thought of; to add to or increase.
Growth on the other hand, very clearly implies adding on, extending, becoming bigger, more more and yet even more.
Clearly, the world is finite and continual growth is not possible. Development, however, is and should be, possible. We desperately need to discover the core of what it means to be human on a finite planet that we share with 7 billion other humans.
To be human and to live good, healthy, fulfilling lives there are some fundamental (core) needs that must be satisfied: fresh, clean water and sanitation, food, security, adequate housing, income, health, education, energy supply etc. For some of us these are satisfied, but for many millions and billions of humanity there is clearly need for development.
For example, over 900 million people do not have adequate food supplies, yet 1/3rd or more of all food produced never reaches an human stomach. One in five of us live on less than $1.25 per day and 51.2 million people are forcibly displaced because of persecution, conflict, other forms of violence or human rights violations. It is estimated that nearly one in three people do not have regular access to essential health care.
So, for much of the world there is an urgent need for development.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the rich nations are hell-bent on growth – specifically, economic growth. Consider these quotes from Western leaders (from the US, Germany and Australia):
“The most important thing that the United States can do for the world economy is to grow, because we continue to be the world’s largest market and a huge engine for all other countries to grow.” – Barack Obama
“We need a growth-oriented, sound fiscal policy, we need investments by the state…” – Angela Merkel
“As always, stronger economic growth is the key to addressing almost every global problem.” – Tony AbbotThat growth is not sustainable.
The term sustainable development has entered the jargon over the past decade or two.1 What does the term mean? One model that attempts to illuminate it has been conceived by Kate Raworth, writing for Oxfam.2
|Fig 1 (Oxfam)
“Moving into this space demands far greater equity – within and between countries – in the use of natural resources, and far greater efficiency in transforming those resources to meet human needs.”Raworth has identified eleven dimensions to the social foundation and nine dimensions to the environmental ceiling. Furthermore, Raworth has quantified how well we are doing against each of these dimensions (except the three social dimensions of jobs, voice and resilience, and the two environmental dimensions of atmospheric aerosol loading and chemical pollution).
How are we doing? Not very well. How equitable and efficient are we? Not good. (Figs 2 & 3)
|Fig 2 (Oxfam)
We have exceeded the ceiling for biodiversity loss, climate change and the nitrogen cycle and are dangerously close to the ceiling for the phosphorous cycle and ocean acidification.
|Fig 3 (Oxfam)
Is the doughnut useful? Yes, it is. If only because it provides us with a conceptual framework within which to understand sustainable development and guide policy making that provides the social foundations, yet does not crack the environmental ceiling.
Clearly, we have some work to do.
1. Indeed, as far back as 1987 the World Commission on Environment and Development defined sustainable development as “the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.”
2. Kate Raworth, “A Safe and Just Space for Humanity,” Oxfam Discussion Paper, February 2012