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Sustainable Development

Amanda Merrett shares her thoughts on sustainable development and how we can engage in social justice through caring for our neighbours.

After I returned from a policy internship with The Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission in 2012, I decided to commence study in the field of International Development. As part of my course, I enrolled in a subject called Sustainable DevelopmentWithin twenty minutes of the first lecture I was completely overwhelmed; I was surrounded by economists, geologists, and environmental experts, all of whom spoke in an arcane technical jargon that was, to me, as impenetrable as a foreign language. (I came from a psychology background; brains and behavioural studies were my specialty).

The other students casually threw around terms like “BRIC and “ecological modernization”,  while I tried my best to look invisible, praying that the professor wouldn’t ask me a question in front of 100 of my new classmates.  

Thirty minutes later I had convinced myself that this subject was way over my head, that I would have to leave the course and transfer into another. However, my professor counselled me to stick with it, and I am thankful I did. Not only was this subject incredibly informative, it allowed me to recognise that sustainable development is of utmost importance to the outworking of social justice.

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:

  • the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  • the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future need".
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As with most issues, it is important to acknowledge there are a range of perspectives and professional opinions regarding methods of sustainable development, and as I have only taken one subject in the area of sustainable development I am by no means an expert. However, there were several concepts that I found helpful and that I think Salvationists – individuals, corps, and headquarters - can put onto practice. 

1. My behaviour in Australia has a direct impact on the lives of others.

The premise of sustainable development is that everything is connected. How I live in Australia – the way I use energy, the food I purchase, the clothes I wear – affects the lives of individuals living elsewhere. For example, increasing foreign demand for the “super food”, quinoa, is leading to a decline in the quality of soil, endangering local farming practices and limiting local access to the crop. 

 Another example can be seen in the way I consume energy. Recently I was at an event on climate change and the Pacific Islands where Tagolyn Kabekabe shared her concerns regarding rising sea levels, changing temperatures and the subsequent negative effects of the livelihood of local people of the Solomon Islands. Australia has the highest rate of Carbon Emission on a per capita basis in the world, with around 27 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per person. The way in which Australians use energy, both individually and corporately, has a direct impact on our global neighbours. It is important for me to be aware of my consumption and waste. 

2. Who is your neighbour?

A degree in economics or development is not necessary to understand that God calls us to love our neighbour (e.g. Matthew 22:36-40). God cares passionately about people.

 “According to Jesus’ parable, those with “neighbour” status do not consist only of those living in houses either side of yours. The “neighbour” circle does not even stop at the limits of your suburb or your state, or of your Corps’ zone. Our “neighbours” are anyone within tangible reach of our compassion. - See more here

This means that our neighbours are those experiencing consequences from the unsustainable use of our earth. Our neighbours are experiencing the negative consequences of climate change, changing market demands, a poor crop yield, drought, and poverty.

3. Don’t let your lack of understanding turn into apathy.

I had to work hard in this subject in order to grasp basic concepts that most students already understood.  This meant extra readings, long nights considering essay questions, and asking more questions in tutorials. It would have been easy for me to become overwhelmed, stop trying, and scrape through with a pass.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by injustice, especially at a global level. I am not suggesting you spend hours reading into the night – I am however, suggesting that you spend time each week informing yourself and considering your role in bringing hope to our neighbours.

I often hear that people do not know how to help individuals experiencing poverty; sometimes it is difficult to know where to start, especially if you are not in relationship with people experiencing extreme poverty and the problem affects literally the whole world. However, It does not need to be overwhelming.

At the end of my first lecture on Sustainable Development I spoke to the professor and explained that I came from psychology background and didn’t think I was suited for this subject. His response was surprising: “Brilliant! We need psychology in sustainable development”! I already had skills and abilities that helped me get through this course; additionally, my psychology background added a unique and desired perspective to the subject. We all have knowledge and a skill base that we can use in the outworking of social justice.

Social justice is the righting of wrongs; restoring imbalanced relationships; including the excluded; challenging cultural practices; confronting the powerful; advocating for the oppressed. Social justice is at the core of sustainable development.

  • How do I become increasingly informed regarding my purchasing and energy consumption?
  • How do we live in a way that honours and empowers out neighbours?
  • How can we embrace social justice?

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Amanda Merrett works for The Social Programme Department of the Australia Southern Territory.