A Youth Encounter on Sustainability Program participant's view on sustainable living and development

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Education has been the first step for me in understanding numerous aspects of my daily life, and it is my contention that is should be integral in my assessment of the environment as well. As a YES participant, I expect to expand my working knowledge of the social and political constraints in pursuing sustainability initiatives, while developing the tools necessary to implement efforts to circulate relevant information to the general public. It is my intention to gain the skills necessary to assess the climate needs of my community, and to promote sustainable living in its members. We all may not be able to promote recycling by cycling for months like Martina, but change cannot be found until every conscious person at least joins the race.

Here is a piece by Anubha on her personal definition of 'sustainable development':

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987).

This definition, put forth by what is now called the Brundtland Commission, in my opinion does not provide a thorough understanding of “sustainable development” as it relates to environmental issues. While the statement does present a general idea of sustainability as it relates to our future development as a species, it does not address the core concern of sustainability, which should be environmental or ecological impacts, nor does it provide any guideline for action, policy, or behaviour.

The statement mainly encompasses notions of support and perpetuity which are implied by the term “sustainable”, the idea that use will not outweigh production. However, the definition does not allow for a full understanding of the term “development”, which denotes change, evolution, and growth. To at once conserve while simultaneously growing seems oxymoronic. Any development, be it economic, social, or technological, exploits resources; resource use, in turn, by definition is unsustainable, unless the raw materials being used are renewable.

Additionally, the definition provided by the Brundtland Commission fails to directly reference the environment as a key figure in sustainable development. In doing so, the phrase remains vague, applicable on the policy level to any type of “development”. As a result, the idea of sustainable development can be manipulated to serve the needs of governments or interest groups who may or may not have any ecological interests.

Finally, the concept of meeting the needs of future generations is commendable in theory, but impossible in practice. Developing and allotting resources responsibly is difficult in our time; how are we to predict the requirements and values of the next generation, and integrate those needs into our current economic market?

I propose a definition that incorporates the fluidity of the term “development”, with the concept of continuation. So, in my words, sustainable development should be a concerted effort to continuously modify procedures aimed at limiting humankind’s negative impact on the environment, while simultaneously bolstering initiatives that support the proliferation of an enduring ecological and social environment for all.

Check back for further updates on Anubha's experience in Switzerland at the YES 2009 program.

The following is an essay on sustainable development by Anubha Momin, a Canadian student studying abroad in London who will be attending the Youth Encounter on Sustainability program in Braunwald, Switzerland. This two-week program "aims to sensitize participants to the complex issues of sustainable development in a global context, through course work, field trips, workshops, group work, discussions and practical learning experiences, combined with social and cultural activities".

I’ve been integrating climate conscious actions into my days for as long as I can remember: trying to view documents on screen instead of printing and printing double-sided if required to print, regarding plastic water bottles with disdain, and using cloth grocery bags even before I was being charged for plastic ones.

However, when my good friend Martina informed me that she was planning to traverse the 9306 km that make up Canada by bicycle in an effort to raise awareness about climate change, I began to reconsider my limited knowledge about the environmental issues my reducing, reusing, and recycling were to target. To that end, I decided to apply to the Youth Encounter on Sustainability program, a course run by ETH Zurich, which is being held this year in the car-free mountain village of Braunwald, Switzerland. I am seeking just the type of immersive, didactic environment YES offers in order to heighten my awareness of sustainable development, beyond the surface attention provided in blog posts, news programs, and school.

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