(Thessaloniki, Greece, 15-17 October 2004)

Leading the Transition to Sustainability: Global Challenges and Individual Action

Arthur Lyon Dahl
International Environment Forum
Geneva, Switzerland



Sustainability has become the major challenge of the 21st Century because the rapidly rising human population, combined with the impacts of modern industrial technologies, are straining planetary limits. From the individual perspective, more than 6 billion of us are consuming more and generating more wastes, whether from over-consumption by the rich or environmental degradation by the poor in a desperate struggle to survive. The environmental threats from climate change, ozone depletion, biodiversity loss, water shortages, food insecurity and natural disasters, combined with social and economic instabilities, could compromise our future civilization and well-being. Since we are the cause of the problem, we must take some responsibility for the solution through individual and collective action. This will require a convergence in our disparate lifestyles, with those who are well-off reducing their consumption to free resources so that the poor can raise their standard of living.

Since sustainable development is fundamentally an ethical concept of justice within and between generations, individual action should address not only the material dimension of lifestyles, but also the moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions. What is our responsibility as individuals, and in our families and communities? Education has a fundamental role in preparing each person for action through both scientific knowledge and ethical perspectives. A transformation of values will provide the motivation to lead to action, driving an organic change in society. Leadership in the transition to sustainability must come from the actions of each one of us.

from Powerpoint presentation

• Major challenge of the 21st Century
• Population growth, ca. 9 billion
• Technology impacts
• Planetary limits
• Extremes of wealth and poverty
• Environmental, economic and social vulnerability

Individual perspective
• > 6 billion of us
• Excessive consumption
• Increasing wastes
• Resource shortages
• Rising costs
• Insecurity
• Health risks
• Loss of amenities

Environmental threats
• Climate change
• Natural disasters
• Ozone depletion
• Biodiversity loss
• Water shortages
• Land degradation
• Food insecurity
• Health impacts

Social and economic threats
• Terrorism
• Fanaticism
• Conflict
• Isolationism, intolerance
• Economic instability
• Unbalanced globalization
• Poor governance

We are the cause of the problem
• As consumers
• As citizens
• As parents
• As teachers

We must be part of the solution
• Inform ourselves
• Take responsibility
• Re-examine our lifestyles
• Take action
• Involve others

Convergence of lifestyles
• Reduce excessive consumption
• Increase efficiency
• Live within environmental limits
• Protect the biosphere, biodiversity
• Redistribute resources
• Eliminate poverty
• Encourage diversity

Sustainable development is an ethical concept
• Justice for this generation
• And for future generations
Aiming at:
• Ecological viability
• Economic efficiency
• Social equity

Individual action
• Material dimension: adopting a sustainable lifestyle
• Social dimension: living in a sustainable community
• Moral/spiritual dimension: practicing sustainable values

Values for sustainability
• Dignity for all: human rights
• Unity in diversity
• Balance of material and spiritual
• Respect for nature
• Economic justice
• A culture of peace
• Responsibility
• Spirit of service
• Moderation

Education for sustainable development
• Preparation for action
• Scientific knowledge
• Ethical perspectives

Values as the catalyst
• Transformed values
• Motivation
• Individual action
• Community solidarity
• Transmission of values
• Organic change in society

Leadership in the transition to sustainabilty
• Must come from the actions of each one of us

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