March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Development framework must be ‘thrown out with the bathwater,’ sustainability guru says


Friday, Dec. 2 — Progress is usually measured by a country’s
gross domestic product, but that framework may not be the best way to live
within our planet’s means, the founder of MSU’s Office of Campus Sustainability

Terry Link spoke at the Mid-Michigan Environmental Action
Council’s monthly luncheon today about moving toward a more world-encompassing
development view that would factor in Earth’s environmental limitations into

“Bottom line — single planet, it provides us life,” Link
said. “There’s a limit to that.”

The current framework assumes that if a country’s GDP
increases, the population will be better off, but that’s not always true, Link
said. According to the general progress indicator line, which measures infant
mortality, crime and other similar factors, America’s progress leveled off in
the 1980’s even though GDP continued to increase, Link said. A different study,
which measures Americans’ happiness and has been administered since World War
II, showed that progress in that regard stopped even earlier.

“We were happiest during Ozzie and Harriet, folks,” Link
said, referring to a popular family sit-com in the 1950s and ’60s. “Our
happiness is declining even though (GDP’s) going up. Our dominant framework for
development needs to get thrown out with the bathwater.”

Link stressed that the answer for this new framework, which
would encompass environmental limitations such as how much food can be grown in
a certain area, would have to come from everyone working together as a whole
and not from any one individual.

“We are in this together,” Link said. “We can’t have Detroit
fail and assume Michigan is going to work. We can’t have Africa fail assume the
world is going to work.”

Link said people’s attitudes have to change so that they are
no longer battling about who’s idea is better. Instead, an open dialogue that
takes the best ideas from multiple people and weaves them together would yield
the most creative solutions to the problem at hand.

“These issues are so complex and our lives are so
intertwined that we really need democratic processes,” Link said. “I don’t have
the answers, and I think we have to be really careful we
don’t think there is an answer. I have an answer, but I also know there might
be better answers.”

Link said the new framework would have to be flexible enough
to adapt to changing circumstances and new information as it comes in while
listening to each person who wants to participate in the dialogue with their

“There’s an African proverb: If you want to walk fast, walk
alone. If you want to walk far, walk together,” Link said. “I think it’s time
for us to take that long walk together.”