Thursday, November 02, 2006

I'm Riiiiacch Biiaaach

Social sustainability can be a tricky concept. As the 4th Sustainability Principle says, in a sustainable society people worldwide are not subject to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to meet their needs.

Now, this is very different from “no poor people” or to “be sustainable we must meet everyone’s needs” – and it represents only the bare minimum for sustainability, because if you have a situation where peoples’ capacity to meet their needs are systematically undermined – through abuses of power (political, economic, environmental, etc.) or other means – at some point you will have a breakdown of the social fabric.

It’s also always very important here to differentiate between basic human needs, and satisfiers of those needs – when we do this, it becomes clear that social sustainability is not just an issue of rich and poor, industrialized and developing, but a very real issue for all of us, because you can start to see how certain needs that are not met in rich places can be expressed as “poverties” and those poverties can then result in a variety of pathologies that we see all the time (eating disorders, depression, divorce, gun violence, etc.)

Currently, global society is unsustainable and violating this principle at a frightening rate – the results are all around us (though often difficult to see clearly, due to the complexity). This systematic deterioration represents a part of the funnel – and a particularly serious part of this is the widening gap between the rich and poor. This website is a cool & powerful way of conveying this idea:

Now donating and helping some people meet their needs does not necessarily address the underlying, fundamental mechanisms that cause the serious violations of SP 4, (but of course it is a nice a meaningful thing to do, so I recommend it!) - to address the underlying mechanisms, we really need to deeply evaluate our actions and those of our organizations and consider their full implications in an honest way – this is of course a huge part of the sustainability challenge. Stay going!