South Asian Dialogues On Ecological Democracy
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Charter of Human Responsibilities





Published in 2009

SUSTAINABLE FUTURES: Replacing Growth Imperative and Hierarchies with Sustainable Ways

TRANSFORMATIONS TO SUSTAINABILITY: Combined Responses to the Interconnected Crisis of Ecology and Economy


The search for a balance between modern industrial development and the environment has been intense for more than four decades. However, the results are far from impressive: complex environmental problems, such as climate disruption, impoverishment of ecosystems and toxification, are threatening the future of humanity more than ever before. Therefore, there is a clear need for reassessing the cultural foundations of the present ways and looking for agendas for transformation.

The authors define culture in a broad sense as all the patterns of human behaviour that includes thought, expression, action, institution and artefacts. Sustainable culture is understood as one that incorporates environmental sustainability and human dignity for all.

By using the two criteria for sustainable culture, three cultural classes are outlined globally. The over-consuming class has human needs met but is exceeding environmental space and, therefore, not meeting sustainability criteria. Secondly, there is the struggling class that lives within environmental space, but suffers from malnutrition and other symptoms of powerlessness. In between the two, there is the sustainable class that meets basic human needs with ecological balance. Roughly, one-third of humanity belongs to each of these classes.

Also a country-wide assessment of sustainable cultures is presented by relying on three sets of data. First, the ecological footprint data was combined with the Human Development Index. Besides that, the Happy Planet Index by New Economics Foundation and the Environmental Performance Index of Yale and Columbia universities were used. The combined outcome brings out Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica and Sri Lanka as top candidates for nations with sustainable cultures.

The study identifies two features of modern industrial cultures as root causes for unsustainability: growth imperative and hierarchic structures. Alternatives are presented for both of these.

The idea of economic growth with Gross Domestic Product as its indicator has been a dominant societal objective. The study presents it as dysfunctional in terms of environment, welfare and poverty. Sustainable economics is proposed as a replacement. It rests on understanding of the complete economy, including the informal economy, and is built on the principles of last-person-first and environmental sustainability. The future scenarios are degrowth for the over-consuming class, steady-state for the sustainable class and empowerment for the struggling class.

Domination through power hierarchies leads to environmental unsustainability and lack of human dignity. This is caused by the alienation of the elite on the top from the basic rules of nature and rules of humanity, including interdependence and inter-connectedness. Paths to egalitarian relations are presented to five such relations: gender, ethnic traits, economy, knowledge and nature. It is considered necessary for the relations to be equalised on all these fronts, as they form a coherent structure of the society.

Cultural transformation supporting such changes includes measures for arresting over-consumption, deepening democracy and learning from indigenous worldview. Drawing on past experiences with practices such as smoking in public places, cultural transformation to these directions is considered most feasible and possible.

In conclusion, agendas for the three cultural classes is summarised. For the struggling class it is about enhancing power and resources, and for the sustainable class the case is about respecting, protecting and promoting the existing sustainable ways. And for the over-consuming ones, a deep transformation into a sustainable culture.

The report also presents a thematic selection of interventions from the eleven dialogues held by the project. There are also summaries of or excerpts from the articles commissioned by the project. They are grouped in four sections: analysis of sustainability, presentations of sustainable livelihoods, processes of destruction and pathways to sustainable futures.

If you are interested in getting a copy of this book, please write to us at marko.ulvila/ / jarna.pasanen/ with subject line "A copy of SUSTAINABLE FUTURES".



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South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy