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Where Sustainability came from?

Updated: Oct 4, 2020

While the idea of sustainability is relatively new, the movement has origins in social justice, conservationism, internationalism, and other past movements with a vibrant past. In the late twenties, many of these ideas had united in the call for 'sustainable development.'

After decades of struggle to improve living standards, humankind realized that economic development came at the cost of environmental health, and social equity did not lead to long-lasting prosperity with industrialization because many countries were still dealing with extreme poverty. It became crystal clear that the world required to find a way to tune ecology with prosperity.

A report known as "Our Common Future" developed by the "Brundtland Commission" of the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising future generations' ability to meet their own needs.

For the first time in that report, the Commission unified environmentalism with social and economic interests on the world's development agenda. Sustainability umbrellas all aspects of life ecological, social, and economic dimensions because to find lasting prosperity, it is essential to analyze everything. Sustainable practices, no matter large or small, can make a difference in the long run.

You would be fascinated to know that If every office worker in Pakistan used one less staple a day using a reusable paper clip, 60-80 tonnes of steel would be saved in one year.

Starting from the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution and maybe even before, we humans have been only consuming instead of replenishing environmental resources. From hunter-gatherer communities that moved into an area to use up its resources in a season before establishing up camp or moving on, only to return the following year to do the same.

Permanent settlements came with the development of a surplus economy. The natural wilderness was replaced often with uniform crop plantation, and camps revolutionized into settlements, ultimately, communities, towns, and cities, which started adding pressure on the environment.

Sometimes, it was the environmental constraints forcing people into making these shifts, and they had to move in search of places where the conditions could better support them and their practices. There was no actual concept of sustainable sustenance, even in the remote past, people understood that soil had maximum productivity that could be consumed and renewed with livestock.

It is also universally recognized that many civilizations collapsed due to an inability to accommodate to the limitations brought on by these unsustainable practices, from an alien invasion that upset the balance of the ecosystem to cutting down too many trees at once or even a failure to adapt to natural fluctuations in the climate.

The current age of technology and advancement has far more knowledge of the past than before us.

It was not that people did not express concern about resources and over-population during the Renaissance and Enlightenment period and whether these were sustainable in the long term. Like at present, these people were not taken seriously at that time, other than as a hypothetical question.

Then came the 20th century when we finally started to understand the impact that we could have on our environment. Environmental contamination, pollution, destabilizing soils by chopping down trees, fossil fuels, and other environmental concerns led to a growing anxiety about the environment and whether we are damaging our ecosystem. After World War II, in 1945, UNESCO was established under the UN to promote human art and craftsmanship. Today, their remit is

"to contribute to the building of peace, eradicating poverty, sustainable development, and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication, and information."

By the late 20th century, the word climate change started making rounds on the streets. By the 1980s, the phenomenon of the greenhouse effect and the destruction of the ozone layer were well known and coming very late in the century, an awareness of the understanding that some of our resources - especially fossil fuels - were non-renewable, meaning finite and that we should make efforts to shift to renewable means of energy. It was then the social, economic, and scientific birth of the environmental movement are strong.

So this is how people evolved from a single scavenger to a large community, and as the population rose, the need for sustainability rose.


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