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The Im(possibility) of Sustainable Development

Updated on May 20, 2019

Is Sustainable Development possible? Or is it just a product of the present generation's false hope and idealism?



Sustainable Development is the ability to meet the needs of the present generation without sacrificing the needs of the future generation.


To completely determine the possibility of achieving sustainable development, one has to meticulously grasp the meaning of the said ideology. The definition stated is the common definition of sustainable development. Examining the words and phrases that comprise the definition might help grasp the possibility/impossibility of achieving sustainable development.


Starting with the word sustainable. Sustainable means to uphold, defend, or maintain. In this case, it’s to uphold, defend, or maintain development. Now comes the conundrum- Development. There are a lot of possible meanings and facets of development. Vague at its best. Immeasurable at its worst. With the use of common definitions, development can be associated with modernization such as technological advances and new inventions. It can also be used to define human progression whether physical or mental, specifically individual progression from infancy to adulthood. Lastly, development can be associated with economic growth- including capitalism, consumerism, and all the belief of what a good life should be.


Now, let’s move on to the needs of the present generation. From a biological, moreover, a practical perspective, we need air, water, food, shelter, and clothing to survive. From a delusional perspective (this sweet delusion where almost everyone might be suffering from), we might also need a fast internet connection, the latest version of a mobile phone, the money to travel to different exotic and photogenic destinations, and other “necessities” to help us prove a point. What are we trying to convey with the latter “needs?” No one can be certain, but everyone follows suit.


What about the needs of the future generation? Given the independent variable of constant change, one cannot be certain of the needs of the future generation, but we can assume. Assuming that we were able to excellently uphold environmental depletion, habitat degradation, and decline in biodiversity, the future generation might be needing a lot that the future environment can no longer offer. The basic needs that the present generation utilizes without much thought of its possible exhaustion might be something that the future generation has to fight tooth and claw in order to attain.


So, Is sustainable development possible? It depends on what type of development we are trying to achieve. Are we trying to achieve a type of development that is entirely based on economic growth and quantifies the worth of the people by what they have and not have? Not to mention the usually inversely proportional relationship between economic growth and environment/nature preservation. Or are we trying to achieve a type of development where the quality of life is the main basis of development? Where the growth and measure of success of an individual are not synonymous with how much he or she earns. It is seemingly impossible to universally achieve the former type of development due to population growth and unequal distribution of wealth and income. However, it might be more impossible to achieve the latter type of development due to the confusion between the perceived needs and wants of the present generation. How can we attain universal development when it comes to the quality of life when there is too much gap between the perceived needs and wants of an individual from a developed country and an individual from a developing country?


Clearly, sustainable development is a confusing and challenging ideology with all its facets. But one thing is for sure, it is solely the present generation’s ability or inability to meet its needs without compromising the needs of the future generation that will determine the possibility or impossibility of sustainable development. Granted if it’s not yet late for the pendulum to swing and we finally see what is essential, which according to the fox from The Little Prince, is invisible to the eyes.


What about the needs of the future generation? Given the independent variable of constant change, one cannot be certain of the needs of the future generation, but we can assume. Assuming that we were able to excellently uphold environmental depletion, habitat degradation, and decline in biodiversity, the future generation might be needing a lot that the future environment can no longer offer.

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