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:


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