This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Cultural Components of Sustainability

If you have read my book, you will know that I have always been critical of the concept of sustainable development. It is the development part to which I object. It seems impossible to me that we can all aspire to use ever more resources (which is the bottom line of development) in a sustainable way. Fortunately, the new UN Sustainable Development Goals soften that a bit and sometimes talk only about sustainability--hanging on to what we have. Those goals are focused on increasing levels of living mainly among people in developing nations. But there are a lot of cultural impediments in the way of sustainability and a group of researchers, including one my SDSU Geography colleagues, has just published a paper in Science that identifies a set of indicators that might help us crack and track those cultural codes. The paper is behind a subscription, but the SDSU Newscenter has a summary:
Physical and economic indicators such as carbon emissions and gross domestic product (GDP) are frequently tracked in sustainability studies and monitoring programs, mainly because it’s comparatively easy to account for such numbers, said San Diego State University assistant professor of geography and study co-author Arielle Levine.
“For the most part, researchers and policymakers are trying to find things they can easily quantify,” Levine said. “Things that you can’t quantify easily—values, human agency, power, cultural context—often get lost in the process.”
The paper, led by Christina Hicks of Lancaster University, argues that researchers and policymakers need to engage with these key social concepts as well as science if fair and lasting changes to the environment are going to take hold.
The concepts identified are:
--wellbeing
--culture
--values
--inequality
--justice
--power
--agency (a sense of self-determination)
The authors argue that these concepts are critical to informing decision-making and shaping policies for a more sustainable future.
In the Science article, the authors provide concrete examples of international data sets that can be used to monitor these trends, going beyond just identifying the concepts themselves. 

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