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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

Sustainability as a System and a Process

In all international documents and declarations referred to here, including the 1997 Thessaloniki document, we expressly acknowledge that, from a strictly ecological viewpoint, the sustainability of development does not solely depend on adequate management of the natural environment and resources. Rather, it depends on suitable economic, social, political systems, appropriate technological approaches to production and consumption, and ideological convictions. All of these factors are, of course, expressions of human culture. To be sure, ecological factors are determinant, but they too are conditioned, in one way or another, by the presence of humankind on Earth. In fact, Agenda 21 states that in order to achieve sustainable development “a basic restructuring of planning processes may be deemed necessary.”

In order to restructure planning; however, we must begin an in-depth restructuring of the prevailing model of development, so that this process may create and guarantee the conditions required for the harmonious co-existence between human society and the natural world.

Sustainable development is neither a static notion nor a finish line. It is instead a complex non-linear system and a process through which all expressions of human culture continually interact with the environment’s dynamic characteristics, some of them natural, and others anthropic. The sustainability or unsustainability of this process, then, arises as a result of all of these interactions at a given time and in a given space: a “Rubik’s Cube,” in constant movement, in which a change in the position of any one face alters the entire process and structure.

Just as the vulnerability of a community facing internal or external threats depends on a great many factors and on their complex interactions, sustainability depends on a complex and ever changing network of relationships. To approach culture critically with the intention of transforming it — and as a result transforming ourselves — and to redirect the course of development, away from its current, non-sustainable patterns, will require the capacity to analyze reality within a complex framework of interactions. The arbitrary segmentation of human knowledge that results from the prevailing fragmented conception of the world, prevents us from comprehending sustainability in its multiple dimensions and consequences.

It is quite clear that our generation of adults is no longer able to deliver a sustainable planet to the next generation. Instead, we can create the conditions for those generations who inherit the planet that discourage them from repeating our mistakes, and that allow them to correct the reversible consequences of our mistakes.

Challenge for the Future
  • To learn to view the world as a dynamic and complex aggregate.
  • To learn to understand ourselves as an active part of this network of relationships which, if properly managed, may lead to a sustainable future.