This article is the last in a series of articles which look into the 1987 report Our Common Future, prepared by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED).
For more information on parts 1 & 2, please visit the link below.
This article focusses of the final part of the report called Common Endeavours.
Managing the commons
Managing the commons begins with the brilliant realisation that: “traditional forms of national sovereignty are increasingly challenged by the realities of ecological and economic independence.”
Within this chapter there is a stunning piece on Antarctica. The authors include their vision that: “Antarctica has been an agreed zone of peace for nearly 30 years, free of all military activities, nuclear tests, and radioactive wastes. This is a foundation on which humanity must build.” When put in that context, the success of Antarctica’s common management is truly remarkable.
Peace, Security, Development and the Environment
The next chapter on peace and security begins with the stark viewpoint that: “among the dangers facing the environment, the possibility of nuclear war, or military conflict of a lesser scale involving weapons of mass destruction, is undoubtedly the gravest.” It is ironic that 30 years on from its publication, we find ourselves trapped in another game of nuclear brinkmanship.
This chapter was one of my personal favourites, especially the sub chapter The Costs of the ‘Arms Culture,’ which was stunningly well written.
This sub-chapter began with the words that: “the absence of war is not peach, nor does it necessarily provide the conditions for sustainable development.”
This chapter also included a quotation from President Eisenhower from the end of his term in office, which I had not seen before but that I thought was brilliant. I will include it in full below.
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed”
Shortly after, the authors include a line of their own, which reads: “The true cost of the arms race is the loss of what could have been produced instead with scarce capital, labour skills, and raw materials.” The authors raise an interesting viewpoint.
Towards Common Action
This chapter begins with what I believe to be my favourite line of the entire book.
“In the middle of the 20th century, we saw our planet from space for the first time. Historians may eventually find that this vision had a greater impact on thought than did the Copernican revolution of the 16th century.”
I thought the quotation was marvellous and it is perhaps one of my all-time favourites.
On the next page, the authors include a message about how they want the book to be used. It reads: “We have tried to point some pathways to the future. But there is no substitute for the journey itself, and there is no alternative to the process by which we retain a capacity to the experience it provides.”
Later on, there is an unfortunate example about how the report’s vision has gone unmet. The authors state that: “environmental protection and sustainable development must be an integral part of the mandates of all agencies of governments, of international organisations, and of major private-sector institutions.” This is something which has clearly not happened, and sustainability and environmental management have become silos of their own. We can only hope this is something that the Sustainable Development Goals can address.
Later on, the report brings the reader to grips with reality, with the statement that: “the transition to sustainable development will require a range of public policy choices that are inherently complex and politically difficult.”
The book closes with a sub-chapter called A Call For Action. They include a well written statement that: “to keep options open for future generations, the present generation must begin now, and begin together, nationally and internationally.” In the end, this is what sustainability is all about.
What you need to know
Our Common Future was a report published by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 at the behest of the UN General Assembly.
This article dealt with the chapters that make up the part of the book titled Common Endeavours.
There are not many books which have impacted the trajectory of mankind in the way that Our Common Future has. The key takeaway, is will we build on the bold vision for a sustainable future that the authors set out in 1987 or will we let the challenge of creating a more sustainable form of development pass like a ship in the night? This is the challenge that lies ahead.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think about Our Common Future, how has the book impacted you?