Project Syndicate, comprising of a group of academics and practitioners involved in the exchange of ideas about politics, economics and society, has recently published an article by the preeminent development economist Jeffrey D. Sachs on sustainability.
In the world of online thinking such as National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), government institutions such as the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank (ECB), and think tanks around the world such as Bruegel, suffering more from neural overload than their occasional clarity, Sachs’ article, commensurate with his lifetime’s work in his field, brings refreshing sharpness to help transition the debate over global development into concrete action.
Sachs, though he begins his article well by offering a definition of global development through the lens of the paradigm of economic development since the industrial revolution which is being contended for sharing between the haves and the have-nots: “[s]ustainable development means achieving economic growth that is widely shared and that protects the earth’s vital resources,” at issue, however, in that definition is the correlation between happiness and economic growth.
Jeff Sachs’ obsolete Millennium Development Goals (MDG) approach to sustainability will be detrimental to the interests of global development, despite his article Sustainable Humanity being a strenuous argument, because of discontent over MDG more than a decade after that threshold has been closed.
The Theory And Practice Of Sustainability
In this epoch of the Anthropocene, homo sapien survival in the context of the earth is sustainability. Sustainability is about the continued survival of life on earth. This must be the overarching sustainable development goal.
The crux of achieving sustainability is “how?” At stake is civilization.
Sustainability, can only be achieved through the steady rise in the standard of living, defined as happiness or quality of consumption, while containing the rate of depletion of natural resources through endogenized technical change, by overcoming the exogeneities in the Solow Growth Model – population growth rate and rate of technical change, for the betterment of the lives of all the world’s people(s). This, however, does not obviate the question whether sustainability be achieved by leveraging the current global technology frontier before moving beyond Robert M. Solow, given the geopolitical and geoeconomic landscapes since 1989 which has added about 4 billion people to the global labor markets who are experiencing higher standards of living.
Economic growth understood largely as the steady rise in per capita consumption or (average) consumption per person over time, since the industrial revolution, as Sachs alludes to in his sentence following the definition, has rendered the planet unsustainable without new technologies to effectively mitigate resource depletion: not all 7 billion in 2012, about 10 billion in 2050 and 15 billion in 2100 can live equally well on average terms.
The Nobel Peace Prize to the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) and former US Vice President Albert Gore Jr., in 2007 has significantly raised self-awareness about the effects on earth from our way of life. Did climate cause civilization? Yes. Is climate an impediment to civilization? Yes. Can climate be controlled? Not yet. Global sustainability, also viewed as reducing atmospheric CO2 to 280 ppm beginning now is being safe than sorry. Still, whether climate change is reversible is unknown.
We, therefore, argue that sustainability can achieved within the existing global technology frontier even as the focus of research and development (R&D), in advanced economy budgets, shifts to sustainable technical innovation. The markets have in their possession resource economizing technologies innovated since the oil shocks of the ’70s to invest in to mitigate the higher rates of resource depletion to avert destructive conflict or competition for them. They need to be shared through constructive competition in the global markets, supported by monetary and fiscal policies and international monitoring, to begin to change our way of life as a species for the way we live to become ever more sustainable over time when the new R&D begins to bear fruit.
MDG must, therefore, be superseded by new thinking.
The United Nations wants to segue from MDG to more specific sustainable development goals (SDG) predicated on three pillars, collapsing the 8 earlier goals into 3: (1) ending poverty (2) widely shared benefits of economic development (3) harmony with earth because homo sapiens must constantly strive to keep our place within its planetary boundary if we, class mammalia, are to live at least as long as a species as the Dinosaurs, class reptilia, which had literally survived tectonics shifts (geological plate tectonics) over a period of about 130 million years until, by one major theory, extraterrestrial collisions rendered them extinct and other anticipated extinction scenarios such as the Permian which has occurred because of ocean acidification wiping out nearly 90 per cent of all species on the planet.
The pillars are thus not the framework, but the principles which are also the goals, the details of whose attainment must be elucidated over time and space (geography) to be able to effectively measure the progress of global sustainability initiatives and their financing until the paradigm shift to intrinsically sustainable technical change and the economic structure it engenders is self-sustaining.
The framework, therefore, is the “How” which maps the SDG I outlined above to (a) human rights (b) mitigating corruption and (c) resource adequacy to achieve the outcomes of (1) political sustainability (2) financial sustainability and (3) resource and energy sustainability (see permalink below).
The world population growth rate according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) World Fact Book is 1.096. It can be zero. Sustainability in the closed economy that is the world, according to the Solow Growth Model, can be best achieved by targeting a global: population growth rate of zero, output growth rate of zero, at a positive rate of progressively endogenizing technical change to reduce the rate of depreciation, by holding the level of base money constant by 2030, in a generation from now, an economic time horizon that is nearly twice the Solow very long run.
The fierce urgency of global sustainability is upon us, here and now, for peace through sustainability is the raison d être of The State.