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The Brundtland Commission (called simply "Brundtland" here) made a strategic move by expanding the time horizon (and also geographical scope) within which to interpret sustainable development: generations. For traditional, land-based people, this comprehensive, long-term thinking is common but for modern society, our time frame tends to be shorter:


  • Economic decision-making within corporations tends to emphasize the next fiscal quarter, by which analysts and stockholders value the worth of the corporation. Future thinking is challenged, but may occur -- a matter for Part IV of the course, the enabling analysis.
  • Political decisions hinge with the popularity of a candidate in the next upcoming election. Not only is the time horizon attenuated, but the emphasis here on popularity raises a concern about pandering to conventional thinking that is subject to the manipulation we call propaganda.

Such time horizons discount the future, valuing the present over the future. To Brundtland, this is unacceptable.


The Challenge to You

Consider this proposition: Your generation (meaning the students in ENST209 and the readers of this page -- really all of us) faces daunting challenges:

  1. The rate of social change has never been more rapid, and appears to accelerate. This introduces Future Shock: "too much change in too short a period of time". We must expand our time horizon to think in terms of decades and generations. This implies what we call later social learning.
  2. The complexity of our world -- meaning the way that we understand and conceptualize the real world around us -- has never been greater. This also tacitly admits that our world is itself a social creation, not merely the objective social and physical environment within which our lives unfold.
  3. The vast scope of geographical interdependence known of globalization demands that we transcend our experience, necessarily limited and parochial, and expand our horizon to include, well, the entire planet.


Imagine this scenario. You were born, like many college-age students, in 1988. After college, you form a family. You and your spouse have a child in 2018 at age thirty (perhaps not your first, nor your last). Your son or daughter lives to be ninety, a likely demographic scenario. Therefore, you, through your child, have a stake in the state of the world in the year 2108. Your interests and concerns have crossed into another century.


Later, we will examine, the precautionary principle, that brings into question the level of risk you wish to perpetrate on others -- like your children. This begs the question: What shall be the human condition at the start of the 22nd century? Thus World Sustainability demands that you ponder the responsibility to the future, the gauntlet set down by Brundtland.


Think about this: If traditional cultures think in longer-term, comprehensive frameworks, does the shorter and more narrow mindset of modern society pose an artificial and alterable "dis-ability" which poses a barrier to achieving world sustainability? Does this also challenge the presumed superiority of modern (globalized) cultures over traditional, localized cultures? Are our cultural assumptions about individualism (perhaps egotism) and materialism challenged by our concern for the 22nd century's sustainability? Does this not open up a fertile opportunity for what we will call here social learning? This also points to the significance of the term paradigm (underlying world view) used here. (Being stuck in a paradigm is called paradigm paralysis.) My notes on paradigm are under constructio


Also see my statement of concern.


This Student's Thoughts

Those who came before us laid the first step in world sustainability -- that is, they forced us to think about it by their actions and inactions. Rapid, post-WWII industrialization expanded without an understanding that our actions may have long term consequences; long term that for those who fought in WWII, it will be their great grandchildren alive in 2108, per the above example (figured given that my grandfather fought in World War II). Accordingly, without that generation doing what it did, we would never be considering what effect our actions will have on generations succeeding us. Obviously, that is not meant to demonize the progresses that were made and the advances that have shaped our world. Most of them have improved our lives, and some of the technologies developed in that period (in a broad sense) are technologies that we will be reliant upon to minimize our negative impact on future generations; for example, the first working solar cell was developed in 1954. So while it is a useful and critical exercise to look to forward generations, it is also interesting and thought provoking to not forget the generations behind us. - DC

Thanks, Dave. Well said and constructive statement. ~WH

People don't seem to be able to think in the long-term. Just today I asked my boyfriend what his plans for next week are and he told me "I don't know, I don't think that far into the future." I think that's the problem. People may say they care about the future of their children and grandchildren, and of course they do, but people seem to lack an ability to fully appreciate and think about the future because we are so focused on the here and now. On top of this, people just get overwhelmed when they think about the future and the possibilities it holds. It makes sense to feel uncomfortable to think about the world as we know it changing so drastically so soon, but people must face the facts. As the sustainability crisis worsens, the here and now just becomes more dire. I wonder when things will be bad enough that people as a whole will take the necessary actions to avert the crisis. But by then won't it be too late? People need to think of the present as well as the future, especially in terms of sustainability - Roseanne Sessa


Roseanne, well put. This is why I try to expand the time horizon early into ENST209. I am well into a book that explains feedback loops from Arctic (melting ice turning to blue water) that have not been factored into climate modelling. Sea level rise could be much worse, much sooner. This kind of message can't get through and would probably be rejected, anyway. Most folks can't plan for retirement or they run up overwhelming debt. Regrets, no solution in sight. (BTW, you did an excellent job with the editing of the wiki. Thanks.) ~WH



We get carried away too easily ...


Do we ever think about the future? How far into the future are we able to visualize? Would we be considered a bunch of paranoid anti-socials if we question any and every product or policy that comes out? I think the problem we all have is that we get carried away too easily. We never sit down to assess the logic behind things. What is the main idea behind it? Why will it work? What is it's longevity? What are potential problems? How can those problems be solved? Whenever I read about past mistakes made by growing economies, I have to groan and ask myself why they got so carried away. For example, the fact that a country is making $$ by trading a product in which it has a comparative advantage does not necessarily mean that they would maintain that comparative advantage forever. Consider countries that have raped their forests of trees in order to make money off timber - they are the ones sufferring from drought, and sand storms. I ask myself if at any point before Air Conditioning point of no return, they looked down at their fields and realized that things were coming to an end? Do nations, communities, people, consider likely problems with their decisions before they make it. And, when they do make it and realize problems, do they take immediate steps to rectify it, or simply let it run amok?


The problem we have with a lot of these environmental issues is that we are too complacent - we get carried away too easily. We think that power and money lasts forever, that natural resources can always be dug up somewhere (if not in our individual countries, then in some impoverished country elsewhere that is in need of foreign investment), that the human race is superior and will evolve to beat the test of time. And, when we realize that something is amiss, we are tricked into believing that we were stupid for being suspicious. Then, we cower away and continue living our lives "as usual." Consider the debate on global warming, or even the controversity surrounding smoking and it's cancerous effect on the lungs. Also consider the fact that companies are in South America at this moment seeking to invest massively in sugar cane to be used as an alternative energy. I wonder when we will get to a point in which we say enough is enough.


Do we think about the future? Do I think about the future? Honestly speaking, not as much as I should. But, something I have grown up with is the need to leave a legacy. I would rather sacrifice and save today in order for my future generation to have a chance at a good life, than carry on and have them suffer for my lack of foresight. When more people make it a personal issue for them, they would be able to form a strong front to change things on the political level.



See my article in the Schroyer and Golodik anthology.  No set, pat answer to time horizon, but achieving sustainability implies an equilibrium, such as harvesting trees at the rate of replenishment. The answer in theory is described in the article by Montague in Schroyer and Golodik, building on the work of Herman Daly. I do the theory in my MBA course and in Ecology, Economics, and Ethics, a follow-up to World Sustainability. ~WH

Comments (20)

lshur said

at 5:38 pm on Feb 7, 2011

~Lauren Shur

lshur said

at 5:38 pm on Feb 7, 2011

I believe that habit is everything. In order for any of us to make change in the world, we must first change ourselves, and ultimately our habits. If sustainability, preservation, and the awareness of consumption becomes part of our inherent thinking, then the generations that come after us will be born into a world where caring for the planet comes naturally and is less of a struggle.

Professor Wayne Hayes said

at 1:52 pm on Jun 15, 2010

Thanks, Jeanne. The citizens in the USA enjoy many advantages, including an abundance of natural resources. Ours is a young country with a fierce streak of independence and home rule. Regrettably, the people who will suffer most from the possible looming Anthropocene will be those must vulnerable and least responsible, raising a profound concern about justice. I will be long gone when you and your children discover whether these predictions will play out. ~WH

jeanne carlson said

at 9:14 am on Jun 15, 2010

I beleive here in America there has been much ignorance and lack of knowlege concerning sustainability. We have plenty and don't understand going without as other countries do. We seem to think there is a never ending supply. We have know about the need to preserve species to keep a balance in nature, but many other things we do not know about. I dont think we've understood water shortages or even hunger or food supplies that could diminish. We dont understand that in time their could be a lack of food, because we have such an abundance of it. We need to be educated. The fighting in the middle east was about the oil. The first thing Sadam did was to burn the oil feilds. Why did he set them on fire? He Knew we were were after oil. If we don't find an alternate source of fuel we will be dependant on the middle east until the resources run dry, while damaging the environment. I know this course has made me aware of many things that I hadn't know about. The future is out of our hands, it will take the whole world to change the course mankind is on. The only thing we can do is make people aware and to do whatever steps that are possible for us as individuals to conserve natural resources. Also to vote in officials that will take this matter seriously, and pray. Jeanne C.

Grace Conte said

at 3:58 pm on May 28, 2010

It is very difficult to notice the damage that is being caused, because like most other "average" people, it does not affect our daily lives. Asthma, getting a promotion, a death of a relative etc., are much more likely to affect our emotions because we are involved, all of those things affect us. Unfortunately the most interaction I have with the environment is when I check out the forecast to see if my plans will fit with the weather or not. I have not been affected by global warming, I have not experienced famine, or dirty water. All of my physical needs have been met since I was a child, and those of my friends and family as well. I have to say though, that my awareness is becoming greater with all of the media display of what is happening. I guess I don't feel to blame, so that's why I don't feel victimized, or the need to do anything. However, I have always recycled, and wish that my job did (I mention this to them often), I turn off the lights when I am not in the room, and try to keep my car up to date with service. I am not really sure how else I can help, except that I might start carrying a tote bag when I go grocery shopping, but besides that I do not know what I can do.

bchen1@... said

at 4:07 pm on May 31, 2009

I hae to admit that when I used to live with my parents I was never really "aware" of or cared about recycling and now that I don't live with them, my life style and priorities have changed. Now I realize that recylcing is very important and is a must because it is one of the many small steps that I can make inorder to help the world. As an inhabitant of Earth I am indebted to it and must do my part to help it prosper and somehow survive as there are many people who are destroying it. Like recycling i have also started to use a tote bag when I go shopping instead of the plastic bags, have started to walk more when driving is only an option, and among them I have convinced my family to be more active in recycling as it is our duty to protect Earth (even though it is only a small step, every step counts).

Also I am definately a "live for today" believer but after reading everyone elses comments about it I believe that I will begin to take action against that and try to think further.

Professor Wayne Hayes said

at 9:32 pm on Jun 1, 2008

Samantha, thanks for the insightful comment. One minor point: ozone hole is shrinking after an international treaty, which shows that international cooperation is possible. The problem is how to comprehend the longer time horizons. But that is for part 4, the enabling analysis. ~WH

Samantha Varon said

at 9:13 pm on Jun 1, 2008

I definitely agree that our society has the "live for today" mentality. It is evident in the overwhelming issues pertaining to the state of the earth we are informed about everyday. It seems as if there are new issues introduced every week about the impending destruction of the earth. Our o-zone layer is pretty destroyed which is aiding in the melting of the glaciers as a result of global warming, we are sucking up fuel wherever we can find it to fuel our unnecessarily massive SUV's which in turn pollutes the environment. Why are we so reckless with everything around us? Why is our culture determined to ensure colossal destruction to our future children or our future grandchildren? Were past societies the same way or is our society simply selfish?

Professor Wayne Hayes said

at 8:08 pm on Jun 1, 2008

Barbara, before Ramapo College suspended its MBA program, I taught "Business and the Environment." We identified and researched many advantages and opportunities presented by sustainability, some of which will be in part IV, the enabling analysis. Drilling in the Arctic is not among them, however. ~WH

bpielka@... said

at 3:43 pm on Jun 1, 2008

Funny you should mention the global warming and the polar ice cap. Just today I read an article where there is controversary about who will control the Arctic Ocean. Now that the ice is melting exploration for oil is a possiblity.
Can you believe something good about global warming. But is it good. The US, Russia and Norway are all vying for rights.
So now there is conflict brewing and nothing has been discovered as yet. There is potential for less expensive shipping of goods from Asia going through the Artic. Will world sustainability be compromised?

Brittania said

at 1:31 pm on May 31, 2008

the phrase: "live for today" should be rephrased to: "live for sustainable development ALWAYS!!"

Brittania said

at 1:19 pm on May 31, 2008

My friends have always considered me too loyal and concerned with the environment because I am the one always picking up garbage after someone or no one at all (present). I am saddened to know that my acts don't affect the people around me because they continuously waste energy, water, food, and litter constantly. Hopefully I can share some insight from Brundtland and the other readings from this course. During reconstruction everyone aimed toward closing the technological gap bet
ween America and other countries. New technologies meant fast (no more pony express it was now the train and automobile), more efficient(invention of the light bulb and ice box), and cheaper (labor could be sold for a lot less because men and women became useless as more machines replaced these individuals and their skills). The advances were way too fast and the pace never did slow down. My mother always said "Old brings new" and in terms of sustaining development: Old problems were tried with new technologies and sciences, but caused New problems for the environment, impoverished peoples, and economy. I shall continue to read to find out WHAT ELSE I AM DOING TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE DESTRUCTION OF THE WORLD FOR MY CHILDREN WILL HAVE NOTHING AT ALL TO LIVE FOR!!

"Sustainability development must rest in political will."

Professor Wayne Hayes said

at 8:41 pm on May 29, 2008

Well said. I like the part about recognizing the inheritance, which is left out of Brundtland. Good insight. See the page that I recently entered: "Statement of Concern." But that is getting into Learning Module #2, which is up. ~WH

Steven Pinelli said

at 8:08 pm on May 29, 2008

As members of the living generation, I believe it is our responsibility to preserve the progress of our prior generations for the sake of our future generations. Whenever I feel reluctant to accept an inconvenient change for the benefit of my descendants, there's always one question that comes to mind: "Do I want to be part of the generation that ended life on Earth?"

Professor Wayne Hayes said

at 4:07 pm on May 29, 2008

Read the summary from Limits to Growth in that page. Part II explores this topic more. Thanks for the comments. ~WH

Lauren Brinkers said

at 3:18 pm on May 29, 2008

It is crazy to think that we have to think about what kind of world we are leaving our children and grandchildren. The things that we do today will directly influence the world that we are leaving behind.

LizJoyce said

at 3:11 pm on May 29, 2008

Becoming a parent changes everything! Your entire life becomes future-focused, considering the best place to raise a child, the wisest investments to make, and how to preserve (and repair?) the world so that your children can live peacefully and healthfully. But imagine what harm ignorance in the world can cause.

Professor Wayne Hayes said

at 11:44 am on May 29, 2008

That is why World Sustainability is so important. We are connected, us and our future. And we care. I am working on a dystopian (important word) project now. My environmental science friends are scared, especially the geologists who think in long time frames. ~WH

Veronica Cavera said

at 11:33 am on May 29, 2008

I agree Adriene, I never really thought about what the effects of my actions today on the world tomorrow. A dystopian future seems to be looming on the horizon, no?

Adriene said

at 8:02 pm on May 27, 2008

I have thought about what the "world" will be like in the future, but never really thought that I will one day be bringing kids into this world who live way after I pass...what will their world be like? It's scary to think about what this world will be like in another century!

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