Unless one is living under a rock, chances are my readers have heard about United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals which were conceived to raise millions out of poverty in the developing world. According to the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohan Munasinghe, “throwing money” on the developing countries is not enough to make the world’s development path more sustainable. At the World Resources Forum in Beijing, he talked about why the rich need to focus not only on development aid and technological inventions but also on curbing their own consumption. First of all, why shift our attention to consumption? “Focusing on sustainable production is not a sufficient condition for sustainability.
As our societies develop and evolve, the question of measuring progress through different metrics has gained a more prominent place. Simple measures, such as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), do not perhaps capture all the complexities of development that we want them to and this is where purpose-built replacements such as Gross National Happiness (GNH) come into play. The Student Reporter team at the World Resources Forum 2012 in Beijing, China was reminded of this problem when interviewing the 2007 Nobel peace prize winner Dr. Mohan Munasinghe. Although there were a myriad of topics such as sustainable consumption and production (SCP) and greening the economy, the question of the importance of alternative metrics is one that stuck. During his many talks at the conference, Dr. Munasinghe explored and encouraged the usage of alternative economic indicators in lieu of the ubiquitous GDP; indicators that could capture many other elements of economic, cultural, and societal value.
Professor Munasinghe is the Sri Lankan professor who vice-chaired the UN’s International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) and the author behind the sustainability triangle, a classic concept in our environmental economics textbooks which he first presented at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit as part of his work called sustainomics. (more…)
Given that Professor Munasinghe is a man of many disciplines, it is not surprising that our discussion with him was not bounded by any categories. One interesting theme included in our talks with him is the concept of changing values at the very base of our society. Those values ultimately also determine consumption and consequently myriads of environmental problems on all levels. Consumption has traditionally been attributed to the atomistic individual but its root is more grounded in societal value. Thorstein Veblen described this concept with the term “conspicuous consumption” by highlighting that a majority of consumption was driven merely by the need to display social standing and power.
Ask yourself two important questions: Is the quality of my life better than the life of my grandparents? Will the life of my grandchildren be better than mine? Although the first one can be answered without hesitation, the second one may cause puzzlement. Both were directed towards the audience of the World Resources Forum by Prof. Mohan Munasinghe and both were to deal with the human’s inborn greed: for development and for natural resources. The main disease from which our generation is suffering from is the greed: borrowing from the future changes the world for worse.