Academe, Sustainable Development

Manila Bulletin, April 24, 2010 | Go to article overview

Academe, Sustainable Development


Two authoritative voices have surfaced above the clutter in the global discourse on sustainable development - one from the Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and the other from former US Vice-President Al Gore. Stiglitz was emphatic in his assertion that we can no longer ignore the growing discontent of the world's poor at the bottom of the economic pyramid, without facing the dire consequences of adversely affecting any meaningful efforts to improve the quality of life on this planet. And that includes the issue of sustainable development, i.e., taking care of the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of future generations. With a much higher decibel and powerful audio-visuals, Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" approximates the drama of the Malthusian apocalyptic scare relative to the unrelenting degradation of the global ecosystem and climate change, collateral to industrialization and corporate greed.

Two propositions are presented in this article: 1) That higher education is a crucial variable in the sustainable development equation and 2) that we must bring the benefits of higher education to the world's poor at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

The higher education sector must take a proactive role on the issue of sustainable development. In fact, the responsible and authoritative voice of academe must be heard in the ongoing global discourse on the subject.

It should find inspiration in the classic thesis of Ingrid Moses (2003), the president of the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP), on the role of higher education institutions' presidents as the "conscience of society," vis-a-vis the traditional roles of universities concerning the delivery of quality instruction, research, and extension services. Sustainable development should find a niche in every higher education curriculum. Relative to this, Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" is a must-see documentary in every classroom; it should serve as a good springboard for discussion not only in the hard sciences, but also in the soft sciences.

Poverty alleviation, on the other hand, is a vital corollary to the pursuit of sustainable development. The poor who constitute the majority at the bottom of the global economic pyramid must be part of the sustainable development equation. Empirically and theoretically, sustainable development requires a social component; to succeed, it must be pro-people, equitable, participatory, and sustainable, as embraced in the UN Declaration on the Right to Development. The Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations document is quite explicit on the twin-issue of poverty alleviation and sustainable development. …

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