Summary of Week 1 of The Age of Sustainable Development by Columbia University (Coursera)
This is a MOOC fronted by Jeffrey Sachs. It provides an introduction to sustainable development, describing the complex interactions between the world economy and the earth’s physical environment. It is intended to provide an overview of the key challenges and potential solutions to achieve development in the 21st century.
I could not find the course reading -‘The Age of Sustainable Development’ by Jeffrey Sachs – in the library so I will be relying on the videos for content.
What is sustainable development?
According to Sachs, sustainable development is about understanding how economic, social, environmental, political and cultural factors fit together in this interconnected and complicated world, and how to make the world prosperous and fair while being environmentally sustainable.
Besides thinking of sustainable development as an analytical approach, we can also think of it through a normative (or ethical) approach of having a holistic vision of what a good society should be. Sachs defines a good society as wealthy with social inclusion and environmental sustainability.
Economic growth and progress: On average, there have been great gains in material well-being, including in health. The basic pattern of economic growth sees a transition from agriculture, to manufacturing, to services. But these gains have not been enjoyed by everybody.
Breakthroughs in technology and economic expansion enabled rapid population growth, which increased economic activity some more, and correspondingly, humanity’s impact on the planet.
While economic development can improve lives, it should not leave millions of people behind, nor undermine natural life support systems.
Continuing poverty: More than one billion people continue to live in extreme poverty. Poverty is a multi-dimensional concept including income, access to basic health services, and access to basic amenities. Often, countries where poverty rates are high succumb to violence, epidemics, environmental disasters, and mass migration. Even in countries with high economic progress, there can be significant pockets of poverty. Geography plays a role in shaping these differences.
Environmental threats: Human activities and use of natural resources are leading to an environmental crisis, so much so that some scientists have called this period the Anthropocene (‘age of the human’). Natural disasters are rising, and a disaster in one part of the world can disrupt the world’s economy. We must determine what we can do to stay within planetary boundaries that are safe for humanity.
Business as usual poses an enormous threat to the environment. In addition, if economic great is not perceived to be fair, there may be more unrest and instability. A global effort over the next decades will be needed to move to a path of sustainable development.