Dec 23rd 2013

The Age of Sustainable Development

by Jeffrey D. Sachs

Jeffrey D. Sachs is Professor of Economics and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also a Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals.

NEW YORK – A half-century ago, John F. Kennedy observed that, “man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.” Those words speak to us today with special urgency.

Our generation can indeed end the ancient scourge of extreme poverty. Yet it can also destroy the earth’s life-support system through human-induced environmental devastation.

By necessity, then, we have entered The Age of Sustainable Development. So I am enormously excited to be launching a free, global, online university course by the same name in January 2014. (Those interested in joining the course can register here.) I hope that people all over the world will join the course – and then join the generation-long quest to achieve sustainable development.  

Sustainable development is both a way of understanding the world and a way to help save it. As a method of understanding the world, sustainable-development practitioners study the interactions of the economy, the environment, politics, and culture and how they influence prosperity, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. Students of sustainable development must therefore learn about a wide range of subjects, including economic development, education, health care, climate change, energy systems, biodiversity, and urbanization, among others.

As a method of helping to save the world, sustainable development encourages a holistic approach to human well-being, one that includes economic progress, strong social bonds, and environmental sustainability. The challenges are becoming more urgent as the large and rapidly growing world economy causes massive environmental destruction, and as new technologies demand new skills. Young people without the appropriate training and skills are likely to find few opportunities for decent jobs and incomes.

I predict that sustainable development will become the organizing principle for our politics, economics, and even ethics in the years ahead. Indeed, the world’s governments have agreed to place it at the very center of the world’s post-2015 development agenda. They will soon adopt Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will help guide the world to a safer and fairer twenty-first-century trajectory. Just as the Millennium Development Goals, adopted in 2000, have proved highly effective in the fight against poverty and disease, the SDGs (which will succeed the MDGs in two years) promise to address the global challenges that we face in areas including energy, food, water, climate, and jobs.

I also believe that global, free, online teaching about sustainable development can help to propel global solutions. Online global courses are part of the world’s ongoing information revolution – a revolution that is now fundamentally reshaping higher education, most importantly by creating new avenues of access for more people around the world.

I know this from personal experience. For most of my years as a professor, the basic educational technologies did not change much. I stood in front of a class and gave a 57-minute lecture. Yes, the blackboard gave way to an overhead projector, and then to PowerPoint, but otherwise the basic classroom “technology” changed little.

Yet, with the new information technologies, higher education (and of course education at other levels) is suddenly changing. Courses can now incorporate a lot more information – data, videos, and even live chats with experts halfway around the world. More and more people worldwide can access free, high-quality educational materials that previously were available only to a lucky few. This is especially important today, because the challenges of sustainable development will require knowledgeable and educated citizens everywhere.

According to recent data, online university courses have already reached students in more than 190 countries, enabling them to watch lectures, take quizzes, and interact with fellow students and professors. Online education is transforming the classroom experience as well. Now, rather than watch me lecture for 57 minutes, my students at Columbia University can watch the online lectures ahead of time, permitting a much richer, in-depth discussion in the classroom.

In the years ahead, I believe that all of us will have to become leaders in sustainable development in our homes, communities, and countries. Millions of young people will soon have to help solve problems of climate change, water, energy, transportation, and education. Thousands of cities and 200 countries around the world will need to rally all stakeholders – government, communities, experts, business, and non-governmental organizations – to play their roles, and open online education will be key to disseminating the information they need.

For these reasons, I am also pleased that my course will be part of a more general education program of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, an initiative under the auspices of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that I am honored to direct. The SDSN mobilizes scientific and technical expertise from academia, civil society, and the private sector in support of sustainable-development problem solving at local, national, and global scales.

One of the SDSN’s key objectives is to reach students all over the world by developing and disseminating online materials for sustainable-development curricula. More than a dozen institutions have already committed to incorporating The Age of Sustainable Development into their own classes, tailored for their own local circumstances and issues.

The SDSN will encourage the world’s universities to participate in the new era of global online teaching. The goal will be to equip today’s young people to use wisely the power that will soon pass into their own hands to help address the world’s great challenges.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2013.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jan 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "........while over 80% of the ECB scheme buys government and other public sector bonds, a huge chunk still goes into corporate bonds and other assets. At the time of writing, the ECB holds €263 billion worth of corporate bonds – a very significant amount in relation to individual firms and the sectors in question. According to the ECB, 29% of these bonds were issued by French firms, 25% by German firms and 11% each by Spanish and Italian firms. As at September 2017, the sectors they came from included utilities (16%), infrastructure (12%), automotive (10%) and energy (7%)."
Jan 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "Thanks to cutting-edge digital technology, cars are increasingly like “smartphones on wheels”, so manufacturers need to have access to the latest patented 4G and 5G technologies essential to navigation and communications. But often the companies that hold the patents are reluctant to license them because manufacturers will not accept the high fees involved, which leads to patent disputes and licensing rows."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Recent polling from Pew Research demonstrates how the public’s attitudes toward the US and President Trump have witnessed sharp declines in many nations across the world. In Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East favorable attitudes toward the US went from lows during the years of George W. Bush’s presidency to highs in the early Obama years to lows, once again, in the Trump era. And in our Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling we found, with a few exceptions, much the same trajectory across the Middle East."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "In the absence of a declaration of war against Iran, the killing of a foreign official – by a drone strike on Iraqi territory – was possibly illegal. But such niceties do not perturb Trump. The evidence is that Trump’s decision was taken without consideration of the possible consequences. The national security system established under Dwight D. Eisenhower, designed to prevent such reckless measures, is broken to non-existent, with ever-greater power placed in the hands of the president. If that president is unstable, the entire world has a very serious problem."
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "It is possible that Trump’s reverential base won’t be sufficient to keep him in the White House past 2020. But such ardent faith is hard to oppose with rational plans to fix this or that problem. That is why it is so unsettling to hear people at the top of the US government speak about politics in terms that rightly belong in church. They are challenging the founding principles of the American Republic, and they might actually win as a result."
Jan 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "If anything has become clear in our recent Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling in Iraq, is that most Iraqis are tired of their country being used as a playground for regional conflict, especially the conflict between the US and Iran. In fact, our polling has shown Iraqis increasingly upset with the role played by both the US and Iran in their country. Majorities see both of these countries as having been the major beneficiaries of the wars that have ravaged their nation since the US invaded in 2003. "
Jan 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "Under his [Suleimani's] leadership, Iran helped Hezbollah beef up its missile capabilities, led a decisive intervention to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported the Houthi rebels who have been waging a war against Saudi-led forces in Yemen, and backed a wave of resurgent Shia militias in Iraq. According to Gadi Eizenkot, who completed his term as the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of general staff last year, Suleimani had plans to amass a proxy force of 100,000 fighters along Syria’s border with Israel."
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: ".....stunning technological progress during the 2010s makes it possible to cut GHG emissions at a cost far lower than we dared hope a decade ago. The costs of solar and wind power have fallen more than 80% and 70%, respectively, while lithium-ion battery costs are down from $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to $160 per kWh today. These and other breakthroughs guarantee that energy systems which are as much as 85% dependent on variable renewables could produce zero-carbon electricity at costs that are fully competitive with those of fossil-fuel-based systems."
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "Predicting the next crisis – financial or economic – is a fool’s game. Yes, every crisis has its hero who correctly warned of what was about to come. And, by definition, the hero was ignored (hence the crisis). But the record of modern forecasting contains a note of caution: those who correctly predict a crisis rarely get it right again. The best that economists can do is to assess vulnerability. Looking at imbalances in the real economy or financial markets gives a sense of the potential consequences of a major shock. It doesn't take much to spark corrections in vulnerable economies and markets. But a garden-variety correction is far different from a crisis. The severity of the shock and the degree of vulnerability matter: big shocks to highly vulnerable systems are a recipe for crisis. In this vein, the source of vulnerability that I worry about the most is the overextended state of central-bank balance sheets. My concern stems from three reasons."
Dec 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense."
Dec 13th 2019
EXTRACT: "In previous British elections, to say that trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore."
Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "