Our discussion on Thursday raised a lot of questions about whether "sustainable development" — a term frequently touted by big environmental NGOs — is possible. From a Western perspective where we have the luxury of caring about conservation, so to speak, partnering conservation with development in third-world countries rich in natural resources is a laudable goal. A host of problems arise, however ...
- How are people expected to care about the environment when it interferes with putting food on the table?
- What good do conservation and development projects do if they simply replace one short-term neo-colonial industry (like logging, for example .. 2011 is the UN's International Year of Forests, and forest conservation is a big issue currently) with another in the form of an NGO?
- NGO resources don't last forever. How can we make sure that conservation practices are sustained without falling into cultural imperialism or paternalism?
- and many more.
No one has the answer to all these problems, as was made abundantly clear in class, but the World Bank is taking an interesting approach. Currently, they are trying to redefine the metrics by which development is measured. Instead of basing development status on GDP alone, "intangibles" like environmental and cultural capital are being taken into account and assigned a quantitative value. Here's a report on a new World Bank publication: