Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Oxymoron par excellence

29 November, 2010 - 10:46 -- John Burton

"Sustainable development" was an oxymoron coined sometime in the 1970s to enable conservationists to cash in on funding for aid programmes.

At least that is how it seems to me, and a lot of people swallowed it.  This included quite a few people who claimed to be conservationists, but the reality is of course very very different. Development, in the accepted sense, in the 21st century, by definition, cannot be sustainable.  Civilization, as we know it is not sustainable. The human population, at its present size, is not sustainable. So how can development, which presumably strives to improve the material well-being of the human population be sustainable?

I have argued for several years that the best we can hope for is sustainable management. If we could manage the planet's resources sustainably we would all be doing a lot better than at present. The World Land Trust (WLT) projects all contain elements of management, and they all strive to improve the lot of the communities associated with them.

Possibly WLT projects do include development -- it's the very nature of humans to want to improve their material wealth. But is this really development? There was an underlying misinterpretation of Darwinian evolution, that also  assumed that evolution was 'progress' -- from shrew, to monkeys and apes to humans, onwards and upwards. But that is not what evolution is about, it is about change, and modification to be more suitable for the appropriate environment.

Nonetheless there are still those who, because they view man as created in the likeness of a god, to be the epitome of evolution, and consequently they also believe that  'development'  is essential.  And this philosophy tends to be the one that drives foreign aid, which in my opinion has generally had as many negative impacts as positive. In fact if I am honest, I believe that overall foreign aid has rarely improved the lot of those nations it is given too, but often improves the economies of the donor nations.

But sustainable development? It is surely an oxymoron.


Submitted by Bill Burley on

Excellent! At last, a voice calling it like it is. Today nobody is talking about growth and population issues as we were doing so ardently back in the 1960s and 70s. The long-term role and value of WLT could well be in revitalizing this life-essential discussion. Meanwhile, we move seemingly inexorably toward nine-and-one-half billion people all aspiring to the quite ‘unsustainable’ lifestyles of many of us here in the American plutocracy — or of the nouveau billionaires in India, China and Dubai.
Bill Burley
Mt.Vernon, Washington.

Submitted by Robert Burton on

Interesting article by Matt Ridley (author of The Rational Optimist) in The Times for 17 January: “We have never been better able to feed the world”. I can’t give you a link to the Times website because you now have to pay for access to articles. However, Ridley thinks that feeding the extra masses will not be problem. It will be possible through the application of fertiliser and tractors. Indeed he says we will be able to feed the extra millions with crops grown on less land than is in use today. True it was only a short article but he did overlook a few problems.

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