A Picture of Sustainable Development

What is sustainable development? As Adil Najaam, a Tufts University Professor of Sustainable Development asserts, “ I do not know what sustainable development is, and frankly, I do not care what the definition is—what I do know is what aspects of sustainable development look like.” These include what the academic literature describes as the Sustainability Triangle; where ecological integrity, economic development, and equity meet. A common definition of sustainability is found in the Brundtland Report, a 1987 document stemming from the World Commission on Environment and Development that lead to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro. Here, sustainable development is defined as development that “meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” An expanded understanding of sustainability has in the last 25 years incorporated issues of environmental justice. Julian Agyeman, another faculty member at Tufts, defines sustainability as “ the need to ensure a better quality of life for all, now and into the future, in a just and equitable manner whilst living within the limits of supporting ecosystems”.

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A Rain and Brainstorm

Ideas streamed onto the table like the torrents of rain released from dark clouds overhead. Crackles of thunder bounced off the many volcanoes and echoed through the valley that contains the bustling industrial city of Quetzaltenango. Lighting occasionally struck nearby, and frequently in the minds of three ideologues overlooking the city from the perch of El Alquimista Рa restaurant and caf̩ 20 minutes uphill from their hostel. Alchemy, described on the cover of the menu, not only can be the study of transforming metals into gold, but of the transformation of ideas into reality. Magical realism, a style of writing practiced by the locally revered author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, perhaps inspired the naming of this organic restaurant and educational farm. A question is posed: do the transformation ideas into reality have to be reserved for magic and fairy tales?

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Through the dust…

…a shop appears.

It has been rewarding and impressive to see a lively workshop come to life out of what was initially a dark, dusty, bee and spider infested place. It’s still a bit dusty, but is clamoring with students building workbenches and doors out of rough sawn wood; and welding racks and security doors out of stock iron. The rough wood gives the place a bit of a New Englandish feel which seems slightly out of place here.

I am a bit sad that I will leave before I get to see them build a windmill or cast a Pelton wheel in the shop, but after a few days of watching them work together, it doesn’t seem all that far fetched anymore.

Appropriate Technology

Yesterday I passed an old K’iche’ woman on the street who was weighing out tomatillos using an old rusted balance scale (the ‘scales of justice’ type). She had a roundish rock one side, and a couple dozen tomatillos on the other. It struck me as a good example of appropriate technology, in that it was so simple, no plastic, electricity, etc…just what she needed to get the job done. Just a rock and a few old pieces of string and metal.