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Number: 67
Year: 1999
Author: Eloísa Trellez Solís and Gustavo Wilches Chaux
Title: Education for a Sustainable Future in the Americas

Inter-Generational Accountability

Since the Brundtland Commission first defined the concept of sustainable development, the public has increasingly recognized an unavoidable element of intergenerational accountability as the core of this notion. All later attempts to approach the concept of sustainable development are based on this foundation.

As the millennium comes to an end, however, we do not have a sustainable world to entrust to our children or to their descendants. If culture is the tangible expression of the way human beings dynamically interact among themselves and with the features of the Earth, and if development is the expression of the prevailing culture as well as the main cause of the deteriorating conditions for life, then we must acknowledge that achieving sustainability demands a profound change, especially in the dominant culture.

Fortunately, among the indigenous cultures of the Hemisphere we have applicable illustrations of sustainability and accountability. For example, an indigenous population inhabiting the northern part of the central United States and Canada, the Menominee, “developed” their territories and performed their work in light of the needs of the seventh generation of their descendants, even in the face of decreasing resources.8

The Menominee forest economy is successful because it is not typically understood as an economy. Instead, it is understood as a culture, and prevailing cultural pressures dictate that the productivity and diversity of the trees, both in age and species, be maintained intact.

Sustainability, then, means that economic imperatives must shift from short-term calculations to longer-term analyses. The land and the forest take time to make things. Economy and culture must therefore be patient; our industrial economy can no longer afford to operate as a crop-year economy, which was always the calculation basis of only the most irresponsible forms of agriculture.

Challenge for the Future
  • To approach human activities critically and adapt them in such a way as to ensure sustainable living conditions for generations to come.