Re-configuring Progress and Development in the age of Sustainability Needs

Considering how lifestyles in the “developed” West consume the greatest amount of resources and have tended toward wasteful practices, what are non-Western lifestyle habits that we in the West could adopt? We may need to change our ways as populations grow, migrate due to climate change and resource restrictions.  One thing that we’re doing is growing more vegetables, herbs, chilis and peppers, getting beans, spices and lentils in bulk, especially from the local Indian grocery. We are learning to make Indian, Middle-Eastern and Asian dishes in low-energy ways (crockpot) and would like to learn how to create a solar oven as we live in a very hot climate with lots of sun exposure.  We are drying clothes outside, catching rainwater for the garden, not watering our lawn, drinking more teas and iced teas and running indoor fans.  I would like to see more telecommuting and working earlier and later, with staggered siesta times to conserve energy for people to rest.  People would be healthier, happier and there would be less carbon spent during the higher temperature times of the day.

We need a way to reframe the notion of “development’ or ‘progress’ so that it is not immediately equated with increased resource consumption and carbon creation.  There needs to be a way to reframe a move back to practices of the “less-developed” world in ways that are not negative or patronizing. We need to rethink the 20th century industrial/colonial linear paradigm that has this world on a crash course. How can we describe a move toward sustainability, conservation, investment in renewable resources and energy in ways that are practical, positive and possible?  Some may observe that the “developing” world is already leading on this topic…How then can we in the “developed” West release our grasp on wasteful practices and learn from the rest of the world?  This concerns how we structure our work-day, how we build our homes, or how we manage the water we use (can we begin to implement home-irrigation methods using a natural-filtered process to use grey-water from laundry machines, showers and dishwashers? – something that would be especially useful where homes would like to grow their own vegetables and fruit trees).

In as much as the 21st century seems to be shaping up to be an Asian century, I believe it would be good to revisit the work of early 20th century Indian, Chinese and Japanese intellectuals who debated traditional Asian values vs. the goals of colonial modernity in the pre-World War period.  Scholars like Okakura Kakuzo and Rabindranath Tagore.

And I am of course also looking to practices in pre-Colonial “Latin” America and Africa as we are discovering that colonial practices destroyed the sustainability these populations had achieved over thousands of years and lead to current states of poverty.  I’m considering lifestyle, permacultural and social practices that fostered greater communities and well-being.  Examples of efforts to heal these communities can be seen in the following resources (for Africa and South Asia):  A Thousand Suns,  a permaculturalist on “Greening the Desert”Barefoot College,  and the work of Narayana Krishnan.

What are other theories, examples and practices that could offer those in the West a way toward a greater “progress” or “civilization” in how Gandhi might have understood it?  As the rest of the world “advances” and the climate and resources of the world change radically and constrict, how can we all adapt in ways that are positive and sustainable? What about the stories we’ve been telling ourselves, need to change? How do we need to re-define “leadership?” How do we need to re-consider “development?”

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