What Are the Principles of Sustainable Development Meant For?

In summer 2002, the United Nations held the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg which addressed environment and policy issues. This meeting was an important driver of environmental policy globally in the coming decade. Seeking to join this major debate, LFMI presents its view on the principles of sustainable development.

The discussion of any development strategy must clarify: 1) what is developed; 2) who develops; 3) in what way it is developed; and 4) what comes out of it. Let us see whether these statements, which have become nearly mandatory in a political discourse lately, indicate explicitly the object, subject and mode of action.
Although such type of rhetoric is not used directly, the context implies that the object of sustainable development means all activities of a man worldwide. It follows that the performer of such action is each individual. Global conferences and congresses on the above-mentioned topic mobilise all people for the achievement of common goals, namely eradication of poverty, pollution and other problems of mankind. The organisers of Johannesburg Summit also stress that “participation of all sectors is critical”. Representatives of state institutions, social groups (youth, women, NGOs and scientists) and interest groups (trade unions, farmers) should convene and submit their proposals on how to expand sustainable activities and assume commitment to action. This action should be such as to prevent the impact of human activities on environment in the present and future alike.
The notion of sustainable development and particularly implementation thereof is rather obscure. And it’s not just because the term “sustainable” may be translated into other languages (e.g. Lithuanian) as words with entirely different meanings. If we treat sustainable development in a wider sense, we arrive at a common human positive goal which is obvious to everyone: as many people as possible should live better. Every individual and community of individuals are striving for this goal and at least each democratic government should strive for this. Thus it looks as if no new object for the discussion remains.
But there exists a narrower treatment of the goal which, to put it simply, may be formulated as follows: how to make individuals who seek profit and other welfare take account of the so-called public interests. This has been vital since the cradle era of mankind. Therefore, all world religions have got their own ethics codes in which one of the imperatives is to love one’s kin (or at least cause no damage to one), and folklore of the entire world is full of tales about the good “fool” who finally must get reward and of such proverbs as “don’t foul the well, you may need its waters”. With a whip and honey cake, didactics and rational reasoning, mankind is learning how to make its life better.
Such events as the global Johannesburg Summit, despite the goals of participation, are not yet geared toward an individual but toward an institution or organisation and particularly the states (the opposite is impossible practically). In this context business, profit-making corporations in particular, is identified as an opponent to sustainable development. Meanwhile, the objective of the new policy is the policy that would force company owners to adopt their decisions not only in view of their own interests but also the so-called public interests. This would be absolutely fine but there is one “but”. Nobody, even a global congress properly representing all interest groups, knows and has methods to find out what “a public interest is.” There is no need to hold the Summit to learn that everybody wants to live better but no-one can tell what decisions must be adopted for people, enterprises, and governments to make this happen. These decisions will differ depending on thousands of local geographical, cultural, political and other circumstances.
The Western civilisation has existed up to now on the basis of the rule how to build up that social welfare, which is to allow an individual achieve private goals and thus heed and meet the interests of people surrounding him. Only one small detail is needed for that, i.e. legally laid down conditions to seek this goal in accordance with property immunity and competition principles. Meanwhile, the principles of sustainable development read that man must adopt decisions in view of others’ interests rather than his own. The situation grows similar to the task “go nobody-knows-where and fetch nobody-knows-what”. The economic consequences of such wandering are weakened effectiveness of activities which, consequently, leads to slackened welfare, growing poverty, pollution and other evils. After all, it was in pursuit of their own welfare that people threw their creative powers at what we today call modern economy and technological progress, owing to which both poverty and pollution have incomparably decreased than, let’s say, a century ago.
So we can come to the following conclusion. The conceptual framework of sustainable development is not practical. The general objectives raised therein are plain and understandable but the methods of achieving them do not lead to the goal. So it is small wonder that statements and declarations on this issue abound as hardly anything can be achieved without rhetoric. Unless separate individuals, who hadn’t read fairy tales in their childhood and thus keep throwing litter into their neighbour’s courtyard, are convinced that it’s not the way to behave.