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People, profit and the environment – can we balance them all?

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jonathan
Monday, 30 April, 2012

"What we have today is an economy that simply hasn’t been able to guarantee that we all stay above a basic social foundation and below a safe environmental ceiling." As the 'Elders+Youngers' online discussion begins, Pedro Telles of Brazil asks: Why is it so hard to make effective change a reality? What are the barriers to change? Where are we failing to deliver, and who is responsible? Gro Brundtland and Esther Agbarakwe offer some initial responses.

It’s challenging but essential to start this debate with a question that refers to that one crucial but still unsolved matter of sustainable development: how to guarantee economic prosperity, environmental quality and social justice at the same time?

It seems to me that we will only reach real economic prosperity when we have an economy that works to serve the people and preserve the environment, and not the other way around.

This has become crystal clear with the global economic crisis we face since 2008, together with the many social, political and environmental crises it has worsened. What we have today is an economy that simply hasn’t been able to guarantee that we all stay above a basic social foundation and below a safe environmental ceiling.

“Ultimately, this is the most severe crisis of our time.”

Whichever solutions we may find must include dialogue, cooperation and transparency between the most diverse social actors, and everyone who is willing to lead change must find adequate and efficient resources available to do so.

To reach an adequate balance, we need to work on putting social and environmental justice at the top of the agenda.

Change is far from impossible: many groups, communities and organisations are already working on efficient solutions for many of the problems we face, but these solutions still need to grow in visibility and support.

And along with practical solutions must come a deep reflection on ethics and values in our society – ultimately, this is the most severe crisis of our time.

We need something new. And it seems that sustainable development is not only the goal, but also the way to get there.

Meanwhile, many more questions remain for debate and it would be great to hear from Elders and Youngers about them:

  • With so many good ideas and hundreds of conventions and agreements already signed, why is it so hard to make effective changes become reality?
  • What are the key change stoppers at international, national and sub-national levels?
  • Where is each sector of society failing to deliver?
  • Which examples of successful and inspiring initiatives led by governments and by civil society can we point to?

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