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Develop with the future in mind

Thoughts on Earth. Sarah Liebig.
Thoughts on Earth. Sarah Liebig.

Nothing (or very little) makes sense about sustainable development except in light of social community and conservation psychology.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Most definitions of sustainable development view the world as a system where all things are interconnected. Two aspects that I believe are important when one considers sustainable development are social community and conservation psychology. Both concepts are related, and they connect to the theorization and study of sustainable development. Granted, social community and conservation psychology make up only a small portion of what one must consider when working toward sustainable development.

Social communities are social groups of any size whose members reside in close proximity to one another and usually have a shared cultural and historical heritage. Conservation psychology, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is “the scientific study of the reciprocal relationships between humans and the rest of nature, with the goal of encouraging conservation in the natural world.” The definition for conservation psychology appears to be deliberately broad, as it is a relatively new field, and because, as has been discussed in previous articles in this column, environmental sustainability is multi-faceted in itself.

It is one thing to theorize what ought to be done; implementing what one theorizes is entirely different and challenging. How could one go about instituting a greater sense of social community and conservation psychology? In less-developed areas of the world, it may be easier to institute social community, as it is more common for a greater sense of social community to exist. This “greater sense of social community” depends on a host of different social, political and environmental aspects, and in some less-developed places, social community has all but been eradicated due to either severe political instability or environmental disasters. Say, for the moment, social community and conservation psychology were to be fostered in a developing part of the world that is neither wracked by political instability nor by an environmental disaster. In several cases, it might be significantly easier to institute social community in less-developed places because a greater sense of social community may already exist. Conservation psychology could be fostered through a wide range of activities, whether they be interacting with the environment more or fostering a closer relationship with utility animals. If approached correctly, conservation psychology and social community may come more easily to less-developed regions of the world because, in many cases, less-developed communities are more dependent on nature. Of course, because they are more directly dependent, they reap the environmental consequences that belong to the developed world.

If this is true, then the real challenge lies in fostering social community and conservation psychology in a place that is already fairly developed, such as the United States. Perhaps the greatest tool one has in instituting a greater sense of social community and impressing conservation psychology is words. How we say things, the different ways we say things, often have the greatest impact on people’s’ actions. How can we frame sustainable development and environmental conservation in a way that interests even those who would resist such concepts? Give them an incentive, something they want, something that will work to further the ultimate goal rather than merely putting a bandage on the current situation.

The assumption that we will continue developing is undeniably a capitalist, Western idea, and in many places development would almost certainly do more harm than good. This is a different (and perhaps more controversial) discussion entirely, I believe. However, operating on the capitalistic, Western assumption that less-developed places will continue to be developed, and that developed places will continue to develop themselves (if only to ensure their positions of power), if we are to institute development, it should be at little cost to the environment. Sustainable development is critical to the future.

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