A guest post by Victor Morales.
Sustainable development has become the main issue at the dawn of this century. It is in the first place an economic term applied to the efficient use of natural resources with an eye on the possibility of satisfying both the needs of not only the present generation, but also future generations. An egalitarian concept of justice underlines its intergenerational scope. Every generation is responsible for leaving enough resources for the next one to use them too. If the future use of the resources is discounted by the present generation, there must be mechanisms in place to compensate for the loss.
At this juncture, it is important to point out that the concept of natural resource determines the type of sustainability one has in mind. The wise use of non-renewable natural resources defines what strong sustainability is. This definition points to the scarcity of such resources and calls for a rationed use of them in the face of uncertainty as regards its availability for future generations. It implies assessing the ways in which non-renewable resources are used, since there is an implicit risk of running out of them.
However, if we think that natural resources can always be substituted, then we shift to the weak definition of sustainable development. It is here where technology is meant to play a crucial role in promoting sustainable ways of life since future generations can be compensated for the loss of natural capital, as it were, with cultural assets.
Another important aspect of sustainable development is the role preferences play in determining the best courses of action. Worldviews and anthropological views undergird the kind of preferred environments we decide to protect and further develop. It is here where education is instrumental in promoting ways of life that will enable human beings to inhabit a planet in which life can flourish.
I suggest that sustainability is more than efficiency but ultimately about flourishing. From a biblical perspective it is about developing ways of keeping and tilling the Earth that will ensure that its goodness unfolds for the common good of all creatures, human and other-than-human. God created all of us entrusting human beings to look after the community of the Garden of Eden and to develop it in all its potential.
However, since human beings messed up their call as co-gardeners with God, dichotomies arose as relationships broke. It is no wonder that our current awareness of the web of life in our planet is torn between two ideologies which represent irreconcilable poles, namely, biocentrism and anthropocentrism. Each of them upholds a distorted anthropological view of the place and role of human beings on our planet; humans are either considered parasites preying on the web of life, or conquerors having won the battle with nature. Either way is problematic.
These views give rise to a deeply seated tension between the idea of nature as opposed to the idea of culture. The biblical worldview proposes alternative anthropological models for the way human beings are called to relate to the environment. Besides the gardener, there is also the shepherd. So, gardening and shepherding are two alternatives each subsuming the ideological tension.
If it is true that human beings are never without a world, it is also true that there is no world without human beings. In terms of sustainability human flourishing is reliant on world flourishing. Perhaps the world and its geological and life cycles can stand without our intervention, however the untapped possibilities present in creation can only be unfolded and displayed by means of human work. Since human beings were created in God’s image, their activity is necessarily a religious affair involving their whole being as led by their innermost convictions and faith. This is my answer to Lynn White’s assertion1 that ecology is a religious affair in the sense that human work is bound to their idea of destiny. And destiny is another word for purpose. And human work implies the application of technology of some sort which mediates our relationship to the world. We never have direct access to it.
I have recently written a paper about food and sustainable development; my view is that its production and consumption are to be inscribed in the same kind of analysis that I am proposing. It is more than a matter of efficiency. Food must be nutritious, varied, available and affordable. Technological development and innovation will always play an important role in food security. Tools always mediate the way we relate to our environment in order to work it out and transform it. At the same time, we undergo a self-transformation in every decision we make as regards the changes we cause. Hence, food as a cultural product is one basic aspect of our identity: you are what you eat and how you eat it.
1 In a 1967 journal article: Science 155: 1203-1207
Victor Morales was born in Monterrey, Mexico. He did his BA and MA in Reformational Philosophy at the University of the Orange Free State (South Africa) under Profs. Danie Strauss and Johann Visagie, and holds a PhD in New Testament studies from the University of Liverpool. He currently lives in Bielefeld (Germany), where he is doing postdoctoral work in theology of sustainable development while training as a teacher of philosophy and Spanish. He was introduced to Reformational Philosophy by Prof. Adolfo García de la Sienra at a student retreat organised by COMPA (the Mexican IFES group).
Cover image: Reproduced with kind permission of Rev. Rozemarijn van t’Einde (De Klimaatwakers, The Netherlands)