Basic Course 5
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Basic Course 5: What Problems are Expected to be Encountered on the Road to Sustainable Development?

In Basic Course 1 it became clear that sustainability is a sophisticated concept, since it requires fundamental changes in political, social and business areas. Basic Course 2 has shown that every individual can make a contribution to a change towards sustainability taking place. In Basic Course 3 the most successful model for the implementation of the concept of sustainability until now was presented in the form of Agenda 21 or Local Agenda 21. Basic Course 4 dealt with a pushing global problem, climate change, in the form of examples.

In the final course, Basic Course 5, several problems on the road to sustainable development, in the manner in which they have continually been brought into discussion in the basic courses until now, are presented in concentrated form. These problems are of fundamental nature. It is not sufficient, in principle, to continue as we have until now, and merely draw up one or another miscellaneous point. What is more important is to completely renew the rail network, timetable and trains.

The starting point for this does not exactly excel. Whereas in the 1980's, the discussion on environmental problems (we remind you of the catastrophes in Seveso, Bhopal, Tschernobyl and Basel here) stood right at the top of the international agenda, and reached their climax at the historic "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (see History), the globalisation debate won the upper hand by the middle of the 1990's at the latest.

"An illusion-free balance must determine that the discourse on sustainability will very soon be overshadowed by the promises and success stories of globalisation: this has ruled the thoughts of companies and governments worldwide up until now (...).

They have been subject to a barrage of angry criticism recently. The concept of social and global justice is winning ground again. At the same time, the 'fortress concept' is becoming popular and politically effective at the centre of society again.

Barriers to Environmentally Aware Behaviour


Problems in perception: Environmental problems cannot be experienced directly


Difficulty of information: Causal networks are difficult to conceive


Barriers at an emotional level: Fears, suppression, excuses


Problems of communication: Information and visual input is missing


Anthropological barriers: The ecological process of civilisation contradicts elementary behaviour patterns


Socio-cultural barriers: Environmental behaviour is incompatible with applicable values


Problems in removing pressures: The ecological-social dilemma (Allmende Dilemma)


Problems of the time perspective: The individual often fails to experience the consequences of conscious behaviour

[Source: Horst Neumann, Agenda 21. "Aspekte einer nachhaltigen Entwicklung" (Aspects of Sustainable Development); in: Politik & Unterricht (Politics and Learning) 4/1999, p. 21]

It became amplified as a consequence of the shock waves following the terrorist attacks in the USA and articulated itself in the loud cry for security through isolationism and through acquis. I want things to stay as they are - at least here and now - even when everything else around me sinks into misery and violence. However if the rain forests are razed to the ground, the Gulf Stream stagnates, the streams of refugees become uncontrollable, it is too late for the realisation that 'sustainable development' would have probably been the best way to global - and individual - security."

[Source: Ulrich Grober, "Konstruktives braucht Zeit. Über die langsame Entdeckung der Nachhaltigkeit" (The Constructive Needs Time. About the Slow Discovery of Sustainability) ; in: "Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte" (From Politics and Contemporary History) 31-32/2002, p. 6, Online Version]

Market Economy and Sustainability

Much speaks in favour of sustainability and capitalism - at last in its present form - being incompatible with regard to their aims and models. In his famous world bestseller ""The Art of Love" published in 1956, the psychoanalyst and social psychologist Erich Fromm diagnosed:

[Erich Fromm, 1900-1980]

"Modern capitalism needs people who function smoothly in increasing numbers, who want to consume more and more (...). It needs people, who appear to themselves to be free and independent, because authority, principles and conscience do not exist - and who are nevertheless ready to let themselves be ordered around, and do what is expected of them, and fit smoothly into the machinery of society(...). And what results from this? Modern man is alienated from himself, his fellow man and nature (...)" He "overcomes... his unconscious doubt via the routine of pleasure (...), in addition, via the satisfaction of continually buying new things and soon swapping these for new ones (...). Our character is programmed to swap and to receive things; to trade and consume. Everything and everyone - spiritual as well as material things - become objects of exchange and consumption."

[Source: Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, Munich 2000, p. 100-102]

With a view to the turnaround towards sustainable development, this analysis fits and provides us with a reason for thought. It is a fact that, as before, our commercial thinking is directed towards an attitude of "quicker, higher, further, more", and in the trust that problems can be solved through growth. In contrast to this, new models of welfare such as "slower, less, better, more beautiful" hardly find an ear (see "Visions of a Solar Age").

Change in consciousness: From a mechanistic view of the world...

In the opinion of the famous physicist and vanguard of thought, Fritjof Capra, what is required is a fundamental transformation in world views and values. Although this transformation has begun, it has not been able to force its way through until now. In the area of science, it was brought on by pioneering discoveries in physics at the beginning of the 20th Century. In the social area he sees a pioneering role in the worldwide ecology and women's movements.

According to Capra the main problem on the road to sustainable development comes from our holding onto an outdated view of the world, a mechanistic view of life, which is based on the physics of Newton. This outdated paradigm is characterised in the following way in his influential book "The Turning Point" (1982):

[Fritjof Capra,]

"The world view or paradigm that is now stepping slowly into the background, has dominated our culture for several hundred years and essentially, has influenced the whole world during this time. It contains a number of ideas and values: one of which is that the world is made up of a mechanical system consisting of basic material modules; the image of the human body as a machine; the idea of life in society as a continual competitive fight for existence; the belief in unlimited material advance via scientific and technical growth; and, last, but not least! - the belief that a society in which the female is subordinated to the male everywhere follows a basic natural law. All these assumptions have shown themselves to be limited over the last decades and require radical new formulation."

[Source: Fritjof Capra, "Wendezeit. Bausteine für ein neues Weltbild" (Turning Point. Modules for a New World View), preface to the German paperback edition, Munich 1991, p. IX]

... Towards a holistic view of the world

The new formulation follows a new paradigm, a holistic or ecological view of the world. Capra uses the term "systematic thought": "In natural sciences the theory of living systems developed over the last few decades namely offers the ideal scientific framework for formulating ecological thought (...).

Living systems are integrated holistic systems, the characteristics of which do not allow themselves to be reduced to small units. Instead of concentrating on basic modules, the system theory concentrates on fundamental principles of organisation. There are an infinite number of examples of this in nature. Each organism - from the tiniest bacteria via a broad range of plants and animals right up to man himself - is an integrated unit and therefore a living system. This holistic aspect can also be seen in social systems, for instance, in a family or community, and also in ecological systems, which consist of a wide variety of organisms in permanent interaction with lifeless material."

[Source: Fritjof Capra, "Wendezeit. Bausteine für ein neues Weltbild" (Turning Point. Modules for a New World Image), preface to the German paperback edition, Munich 1991, p. X]

Central to the systematic view is the recognition that the whole is always somewhat different than to the sum of all the parts. According to this view only those measures are acceptable that can be sustained on a long-term basis, which therefore do not damage living systems. Insofar this new ecological paradigm forms an ideal basis for sustainable development. The following figure presents an outline of the changes in values following from this.

Further sections within the framework of Basic Course 5

bulletGlobalisation and The Tragedy of the Commons: The market does not suffice as a control instrument alone. It does serve for protecting the environment. This is the task of government policy. But many problems have reached global proportions, whereas politics as before mostly still takes place at national level... [... more]
bulletDevelopment as a difficult concept: Many supporters of the concept of sustainability complain about the fact that one now speaks of "sustainabledevelopment" as a model, since they consider the term to be problematic... [... more]
bulletJustice and sustainability are very closely related. The North-South conflict forms a considerable obstacle on the road to sustainable development. The role of the last remaining superpower also comes into play here... [... more]


"What is required is an holistic ethic that comprises the whole of creation and not an anthropocentric one. To achieve this we have to place the basis of today's commercial concepts... in question."

[José Lutzenberger, pioneer of the Rio conference]

[Author: Ragnar Müller]

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SubjectsHuman Rights  I  Examples  I  Democracy  I  Parties  I  Europe  I  Globalisation  I  United Nations  I  Sustainability

Methods:    Teaching Politics    II    Peace Education    II    Methods


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