Culture and Sustainability

Sustainability is the big buzzword in the development sector right now, and Canada, Australia and NZ in particular are exploring the ‘Four Pillars’ model of sustainability that sprang from a 2005 UN summit and has been taken up by various community and development sectors around the world.

Originally, the United Nations 2005 World Summit Outcome Document came up with three pillars for sustainability. It refers to the “interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars” of sustainable development as economic development, social development, and environmental protection.

However..  Indigenous people have argued, through various international forums such as the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Convention on Biological Diversity, that there are four pillars of sustainable development, the fourth being cultural.

This makes a whole lot of sense. This newer ‘four pillars’ model recognizes that a community’s vitality and quality of life is closely related to the vitality and quality of its cultural engagement, expression, dialogue, and celebration. It further recognizes that the contribution of culture to building lively cities and communities where people want to live, work, and visit, and plays a major role in supporting social and economic health.

The Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (UNESCO, 2001) further elaborates the concept by stating that

“…cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature”;

it becomes  “one of the roots of development understood not simply in terms of economic growth, but also as a means to achieve a more satisfactory intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual existence”.

If culture is the sum total of beliefs, values, institutions and practices whereby a society or group affirms its presence in the world and assures its reproduction and persistence through time. It can be seen as a form of capital, like economic and environmental capital, that we should seek to use sustainably, and increase as much as possible.

This is why cultural diversity is so important.. by learning more about others, not only are our minds and hearts expanded, we understand our own culture and identity better. When a society is comprised of groups of people with different experiences and backgrounds more innovative and creative ideas are a distinct result. It is only natural that people who have varying life experiences and perspectives would be able to come up with unique solutions to problems which may not arise from groups who think similarly; this is of great value to a society. We need to move beyond tolerance of the ‘other’ to recognition of their inherent value and that they have something to offer.

Culture informs all the other ‘pillars’ of sustainability.. it gives us fresh ideas, critical perspectives and models for living. Its up to us to minimise the negative impact that globalisation has on cultural diversity, and reinforce the good stuff.. sharing ideas, stories, languages, wisdom etc.

From now on, I have decided to ask myself the following questions…

What am I doing to understand others?

What am I doing in order to be understood?

Where will I take a stand in preserving, promoting and enjoying diversity?


~ by humblemonkey on November 18, 2009.

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