Is our sustainability science racist?

Found this fantastic radio interview with Dr Ariel Salleh, a sociologist in political economy at the University of Sydney. She focuses on the ecological debt notched up by affluent societies as main contributors to global warming.

The interview gets very academic and wordy in parts, but its well worth the read. Salleh makes the basic premise that it is Northern institutions, not Southern ones, that need capacity building in the area of sustainability science. She supports the suggestion made to the UN by the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit – that the time has come for Northern institutions to host technical briefings by Indigenous peoples on traditional knowledge and climate change.

For too long the path of industrialised society has been guided by a narrow, western post-enlightment way of thinking that has discredited or ignored alternative forms of sense-making and knowledge. Now, on the edge of a climate and resource crisis, the industrialised world has reached a ‘wrong way, turn back’ sign, as Salleh puts it, and is scrabbling for answers… unfortunately with the same thinking cap on that got us here in the first place.

Indigenous models of sustainable development almost unanimously advocate for autonomous, local, intimate economies in possession of food and energy sovereignty. Their models are highly sophisticated and well-thought out.. and best of all, they could really help solve the resource crisis. But will they happen here in the West before it is too late? To quote Salleh,

“Here is a people’s science that vies closely with the advice of good environmental consultants in the global North. The trouble is that in growth economies that advice too often gets shelved by governments under pressure from business. Or, unwieldy administrations foil the translation of principles into action on the ground. Beyond this, our capitalist states are so dependent on resources from the meta-industrial periphery, the exacting sustainability practices of the global majority must remain invisible. Yes, technical briefings by Indigenous peoples are going to be indispensible if international decision-making is to become coherent and democratic.”

I for one look forward to hearing some fresh voices on the sustainability debate.


~ by humblemonkey on October 15, 2009.

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