Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program envisions sustainable future societies in her eleventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
What is a sustainable society? A sustainable society is one that ensures the wellbeing of human life and nature for present and future generations. It is a society that has the right balance of the economic, social-cultural, political, and ecological dimensions.
The economic system is one part of our finite ecosystem constrained by planetary boundaries. Economic growth is simply a translation of the social and natural capital within society into economic gains. The global economy has been growing for decades while the natural capital is continually being degraded at a rate well above its renewal. It is not possible for the economy to perpetually grow in this finite ecosystem.
Economic growth is a quantitative increase which does not necessarily lead to an improvement in the quality of life or equity and justice in society. The pursuit of continuous economic growth puts undue strain on the environment with total disregard to future generations. On the contrary, we need development which sustains the wellbeing of humans, cultural values, and the environment. What will a sustainable society look like? Can this be attained?
A sustainable society will be characterised by long-termism rather than short-termism. It will be a global society whose members are mindful of the global rather than the immediate local consequences of their actions. It will be a society with a shared economy that pursues development rather than mere economic growth and the common good. Otherwise, everyone will face the tragedy of the commons such as effects of climate change and societal ills.
It will be an equitable society in all aspects such affecting wellbeing and decision-making. It will not be a society where the more economically empowered make or influence policy decisions to serve their own interests. All calibres of society will need to be represented in decisions that affect their welfare, both locally and globally. The south will be as key in global decision-making as the north. It will no longer be a case of the economic powers making decisions that affect the globe. Government policies will discourage and punish behaviours that would lead to ecological degradation and hamper future sustainability of society through levies such as eco tax and economic sanctions.
The sustainable global society will espouse a paradigm shift in the value of life. It will be a society where members are valued for their very existence rather than their economic worth. This will drive a sense of equity and a desire to see one’s neighbour living as comfortably as himself. Members of the society will be oriented to change for the benefit of all.
Is a sustainable society possible? What will drive it? Who will be its custodians? As demonstrated by the ongoing global youth campaigns for climate change, maintaining the status quo is not an option. Attaining a sustainable society is a social-political problem. Economists have failed us. Building a sustainable society will require a political class that espouses societal values and does not merely serve capitalists. This will be a calibre of leadership that has the will to enforce the right values across all segments of society and to penalise those who act contrary to the tenets of this common good. It will be a political power that works to build society’s moral fibre rather than to erode it. One that is insulated from the current economic system that currently wields undue power over society and lives in present. A sustainable future society is one that includes everyone.
© Felistus Mbole, 2019