Philosophy professors advocate social action to achieve sustainability

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Sustainability reaches beyond the natural world, according to UT integrative biology and philosophy professor Sahotra Sarkar and UNT philosophy professor John Callicott, who defined sustainability and discussed methods of achieving it Monday night.

Sustainability relates more to lifestyle, with regards to the global economy and civilization, and how the world will be for future generations, Callicott and Sarkar said.

“Our economy and our global civilization, which is now very much integrated, is in many ways over-connected and very fragile, and I think, at serious risk,” Callicott said. “So what I think is important for the sustainablity of the global civilization and its associated economy is that we have to model the human economy and model it on the cyclical economy of nature.”

However, developing infrastructure in countries such as India and China can take higher priority than sustainability, Sarkar said. 

“You have a group of people who are living at the bottom of their society, and they are living in abject poverty,” Sarkar said. “You want development as fast as possible because you want every one of those children, who are say, under two or three, to get proper nutrition, to get proper education, to get to the circumstance where they can actually enjoy a type of life that at least approximates the least fortunate of us who are living in this society.”

Because sustainability has become a vague notion that functions to “greenwash” initiatives, Sarkar and Callicott said interdisciplinary actions are necessary to better define and advance sustainability, especially regarding population growth.

“What really influences fertility, irrespective of affluence, is women’s opportunity and control over their reproductive lives,” Callicott said. “It’s a great confluence of democratic values with the population issue. It seems to have positive ethical and social components and an environmental benefit.”

Environmental problems often have social aspects and can be dealt with through social action, Sarkar said. 

“It does not mean that the natural world does not constrain us or we can violate the basic laws of science,” Sarkar said. “[People] need to have full lives without having to drive 80 miles to get there.”

Abhay Divakaruni, a Plan II and business honors freshman who describes himself as a big proponent of sustainability, said parts of the lecture, which was hosted by the School of Undergraduate Studies, made him reconsider some of his daily routine.

“So instead of maybe making the big shift from eating meat to being vegetarian, I might think of maybe instead moderately doing things,” Divakaruni said. “Maybe being like a weekday vegetarian or something like that.”