17th October, 2020

Situating Sustainability

These are notes from "Module 5: Situating Sustainability" of APU's Online Course - Sustainability in the Indian Context

The movement of societies is determined by various factors. Some of the important ones are Nature, Culture, Markets and State. The important part are that all these are in a state of change and proper interventions (even by individuals) can lead us to a better outcome.

Nature and Sustainability

How we understand nature and see ourselves as connected to it defines our worldview. The more in tune we are with natural cycles, the more we understand how closely our existance is linked to natural systems and how our actions effect those systems.

Culture and Sustainability

Cultural changes are key for a more sustainable future. Some things which affect cultural change are Art, Education and Government Action.

Markets and Sustainability

We live in a society organized by Market.

Historically, markets evolved with and remained within society in order to fulfill certain crucial functions - it was governed by the Moral Economy and Social Norms. Today, society is embedded in markets - markets define how our society is organized. What that means is that because of this, commercial activities - trading, profit, commerce are now free of social construct and taboos.

In the current market economy we often pay the cost of extraction, production and delivery of an item but not the consequences of the process, esp of non-commodities which are treated as commodities. Markets are great at dealing with things which can be priced effectively. However, Most things aren't priced with complete information, taking into account the complex interactions and the relationships it has with commons and people.

Government regulation has been one of the ways of making sure that the correct price of commons is levied on producers- Polluter Pays principle. This has been effective at locally addressing the problem. However, businesses and capital is now mobile and this leads to a Roving Bandit problem where the entity causing the problem just shifts to another place where government regulations or enforcement is lax (esp in a global market). A company can destroy the commons of one area or state and then move to another once regulation or pollution makes it difficult to continue.

One proposed way to combat climate change is using the Market for Carbon Credits

Markets and the 3Fs

  • Markets do great at addressing Finitude by incentivising increased production and efficiency using price mechanism but often do so at the cost of fairness and fragility.
  • Markets are not designed to address the problem of Fairness.
    • A perfect market is fair. No market is perfect.
  • Markets can reduce Fragility by allowing more competetion, but more often leads to more fragility and transference of fragility from one place to another.

State and Sustainability

State (which is any government or organization with monopoly in political power) holds immense power in discussions about sustainability. States are seen as one of the solutions to Collective Action Problems. The state has the power to create long-term interventions needed to build a more sustainable society.

Previous module: Climate Change

Next module: Sustainability Action and You