Rethinking Sustainable Development: Self-Development, Social Transformations and Planetary Realisations

By Giri, Ananta Kumar | Social Alternatives, October 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Rethinking Sustainable Development: Self-Development, Social Transformations and Planetary Realisations


Giri, Ananta Kumar, Social Alternatives


Sustainable development is a concept locked in a dominant discourse which silences creative and expansive possibilities. Sustainable development is rethought in this article and presented as a multi-dimensional process of self and social transformations leading towards planetary realisations. Such realisations challenge us to understand that all of us, including non-human beings, plants and species, are children of Mother Earth. The conclusion is that sustainable development is not just a noun, it is also a verb; in fact it is a manifold verb of action, meditation and transformation of self and society.

... What is managed under the policy of sustainable development is not the path towards a more sustainable future, but rather the inability and unwillingness to become sustainable. Valérie Fournier (2008: 530).

[We must] avoid essentializing the term [sustainability] by locking it into a recipe or an absolute state. Instead it is something to be embodied, as a state of being, as an orientation to life. Marcus Bussey (2008: 140).

Harmony with nature should become a nonnegotiable ethic. The rise and fall of great civilizations in the past have been related to the use and abuse of land, water and other natural resources. M.S. Swaminathan (2011: 116).

We need to balance the advances of science with the wisdom of indigeneity. We need education that encourages us to integrate the many aspects of our being. Through meditation and art, we can connect with our mother earth and reaffirm our cooperative nature, recognize the environment as part of ourselves. Planting seeds of peace, turning inward towards ourselves, we can heal ourselves and heal our planet. Sulak Sivaraksha (2009: 44).

Sustainable development is a key challenge of our times but the discourse of it is many a time locked in an existing status quo without foundational interrogation of the dominant and dominating frameworks of economy, polity, self and society. We need to rethink and interrogate such a status-quoist understanding and practice of sustainable development and realise it as a multidimensional process of self and social transformations leading towards planetary realisations. In this sustainable development goes beyond the prisons of both nation-state centered rationality, productivisit profit maiximisation and anthropocentrism and contributes towards planetary realisations. Planetary realisations challenge us to understand that all of us, including non-human beings, plants and species, are children of Mother Earth. Anthropogenic presence in the life of earth has created tremendous pressures on other life forms and matter.

We need to conduct ourselves in a responsible way so that we nurture our Mother Earth as an abode of flourishing for all of us (cf. Novacek 2011). In this context, what Kathryn Yusoff and Jennifer Gabrys write deserves our careful consideration:

... there is a concurrent geographic imaginary that gestures towards the universal and the epic, that of the Anthroposcene: The Geological Age of Humans. The framing of human activity as a géomorphologie force summons up to the imagination what might be termed, after the French philosopher Michel Serres, 'the plates of humanity.' The destructive nature of these 'plates of humanity' to other forms of life raises questions about how we imagine and understand the collective human condition, the longevity and sustainability of Homo Sapiens, and the impact of humans on nonhuman ... worlds (Yusoff and Gabrys 2011: 529).

So sustainable development involves responsibility, in fact a process of responsibilisation. Sustainable development is also not just a noun, it is also a verb; in fact it is a manifold verb of action, meditation and transformation of self and society. Our engagement with sustainable development challenges us to move towards sustainable flourishing.

Fortunately for us, in the shifting discourses of sustainable development, we have some initiatives in new thinking and movements which present us sustainable development as a transformative process. …

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