Economy, ecology & spirituality: toward a theory and practice of sustainability

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A feature of the People-Centered Development Forum,  Release Date September 19, 1993
ANGOC, IRED Asia and the PCDForum
A growing gap between rich and poor and accelerating environmental and social disintegration offer powerful testimony to the failure of conventional development practice in countries of both Southand North. This failure has given birth to a global effort to build commitment to an alternative citizen's vision of human progress grounded in commitment to just, inclusive, and sustainable human societies. This effort has been handicapped in its confrontation with the forces of the status quo by its lack of an alternative theory and practice. This paper presents the outlines of such a theory andpractice grounded in the premise that the sustainablility crisis is a direct consequence of development's contribution to accelerating the historical processes by which the human species has become increasingly alienated from its spiritual connection to nature and community. A sustainable social practice must decentralize and distribute economic power in ways that facilitate the restoration ofthis connection.
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) focused world attention on the subject of sustainable development. Yet the official debates revealed little willingness on the part of the world's governments and multilateral agencies to address the transformative changes our collective global dilemma actually demands. The implicit order of priority in the firstsubstantive chapter of Agenda 21 (Chapter 2) was trade, development, and environment. Its first admonition was to provide a supportive international climate for: "Promoting sustainable development through trade liberalization." It seemed that trade liberalization was the chapter's first concern. Indeed it explicitly admonished that environmental protection measures must not be allowed to interferewith either the expansion of trade or development in that order.
Furthermore, by equating development with growth, Agenda 21 ignores the basic truth clearly articulated by World Bank economist Herman Daly that sustainable growth on a finite planet is an "impossibility theorem." To achieve sustainability, they tell us, we need more of the very same policies that have made the global economyunsustainable. The doctor whose medicine has produced deadly side effects in his patient now tells the patient that the answer is a larger dose of the same medicine.
Humanity has arrived at a moment of critical choice that presents a unique challenge to its collective intelligence and the technical and social advances it has achieved through its grand historical journey. A choice for status quosolutions will almost certainly lead to accelerating social and ecological disintegration. It could lead to the end of human civilization and even the extinction of our own species. The alternative, a choice for transformational change, can be more than an act of collective survival. It may also set the stage for the next step in life's evolutionary journey.
The major hope for mobilizing social forcesbehind the affirmative choice is found within a awakened global civil society. This awakening is taking place. The energies unleashed by this awaking are coalescing around a people-centered citizen's vision of just, inclusive, and sustainable human societies dedicated to enhancing the social, intellectual, and spiritual growth of all people, celebrating the unity and diversity of life andmaintaining a sustainable balance between the human uses of natural wealth and the regenerative limits of earth's living eco-system.
This vision calls for an end to social and environmental exploitation by the powerful at the expense of the powerless. In their place it envisions societies that empower people through economic and political decentralization to regenerate the local communities and...