Friday, August 8, 2008

Living Green 2 – Can Development Be Green?

What does development really mean? For those that read my development posts earlier on, I mentioned reducing vulnerabilities and promoting agency. In short, enabling people to be able to respond to shocks and mitigate the effects of those shocks (drought, sickness, floods, etc.); and ensuring that people are healthy enough, educated, and have the political will and freedom to make their own choices.

The most intuitive response that comes to mind when thinking about reducing vulnerabilities is often economic development. Hold the tomatoes and lettuce fellow volunteers, let me finish my point.

Micro-enterprise is obvious, so let’s choose agriculture. Typically we try to encourage farmers to start farming as a business. Producing more than subsistence and selling the surplus, so that with the capital saved up, it can be re-invested in more farming, education, or just soften the blow of different shocks (drought, sickness, floods, etc).

But whether it is a carpenter or tailor expanding their business, or a farmer making the switch from subsistence to business person, it all requires a greater exploitation of resources. Perhaps equally important as the environmental stress, is the corresponding need for consumers. Finding more consumers to pay you for the service or good you are producing.

Even development in the sense of getting an education, will eventually lead to somebody getting a high paying job, so they can consumer more; or a more educated farmer, who can produce more.

I look at our consumerist lifestyle, where the amount of packaging and disposable material alone is a burden on the environment, I think of the population of Saboba, ~7,000 people, and think to myself that the same amount of people living in Canada would have a landfill the size of the town used to house these people here.

I can’t help but wonder if developing countries are following the same path. In many ways Ghana captures a past lifestyle and a modern one. Just travelling 12 hours south to Accra the capital, you can see many of the trends you see in Canada.

I would be a hypocrite to criticize the direction of development, chanting a concern for the environment; if after this experience I am going to hop on a PLANE, and fly back to my consumer driven lifestyle in Canada. To be perfectly honest, the ecological footprint of most rural Ghanaians is so low, that I find thinking of these types of issues far misplaced.

It makes me smile to see environment as a cross-cutting theme on so many development projects here. In some cases it is donor driven, but often the Government of Ghana is also pushing for environmental sustainability. Agricultural extension agents training farmers on how to preserve soil fertility, reduce erosion, and conserve their natural environment is inspiring.

Maybe the question is how to move forward with development but at the same time not replicate an ever growing ecological foot print, that we now know the earth cannot sustain. Is sustainable development just an oxymoron we all refuse to recognize? I guess this is just another clear example that our society is not the definition of good development, and that the “endpoint” of being developed (if there is one), is less defined that ever.